5. Ruin

Dunnottar Castle. For Day 5 of the November Poem-A-Day Challenge, a poem about beautiful ruins.

**

You come from afar
bearing the gift
of your open self
to this place
from whence they say
the honours of the land
once slipped, hid
in the hem of a buxom
lady’s dress.

What you see
are its tired walls straining
against the pressure
of the wind, clinging
with their last lives
to the cliffs that saved them
from past wars.

On the days
that the sun’s light
catches the slight slant
of her weathered walls,
you will realize
there is beauty
in the rugged persistence
of broken things 

3. Dreaming

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash. For Day 3 of the November Poem A Day Challenge. A poem about dreaming.

**

And still,
I find myself
reaching for the
solidity of certain
earth, my feet aching
for the cold comfort
of the morning sand,
breaking my free fall.
This is a fevered dream
that returns each night
in which i find that home
though close, disappears
in the dim distance.

 

 

2. Home

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash. For Day 2 of the November Poem A Day Challenge. A Poem for when the unexpected triggers memories of home.

**

It hangs heavy
on the heart, its heft
never ever far away it seems,
always lurking, always waiting
always ready to spring to life
to the lines of a song suddenly
borne on the wind, or the whiff
of mothballs, unlocking the memory
of the gathering, and of ritual.

Hers is a name that lingers
on your tongue, sometimes forgotten
but then remembered
in the things we least expect.

1. Finding Home

For the November Poem-A-Day challenge. A poem about Entering, but mainly about leaving…

**

On the days when I wake
to a haze hiding the lushness
of the valley below, its shadow
hanging heavy like a shroud
on limbs shrivelled by the ravages
of time, I ponder the bland bleakness
of air heavy with water, how it smothers
life, and the beauty of things.

Each day where the light yields
to the pressure of collapsing space,
and time seems stilled, when the
tenacity of hope is tested
by the roiling reality of the things
which seem certain, I reach
for the small light of the things
that I remember, a thin thread, a tether,
somehow holding out against
the testing threats of the present,
guiding me home.

Fighting for the Light

There is not a lot to say this week except to say that the events in Nigeria with the #EndSARS protests have been particularly encouraging, not least because they prove that the trope about Nigerians being endlessly resilient and willing to accept broken systems is patently false. Beyond the willingness to hit the streets day in day out, the speed with which systems of support and organization have sprung up and have been deployed at scale has been a thing of fascination. Young Nigerians do have the tools, the desire and the nous to make a difference, long may it continue!

Also interesting has been seeing quite a few of the popular Pentecostal heavyweights lend their voices, and feet, to the protests. Looking on from the outside, it has often felt like the PFN, and other organizations of its ilk, have previously been far too interested in preserving their access to power than to be effective voices speaking truth to power. Whatever has driven this pivot in certain individuals, it can only be for the better – we all know how closely beholden us Nigerian folk can be to their MOGs (the frothing at the mouth, and general refusal to think in the aftermath of a certain MOG’s 5G revelations not too long are a case in point).

One hopes that this marks a real move away from religious leaders being complicit in the pillage of the country, towards a more outspoken state where they take on the mantle to speak truth to power, with their power. Whatever happens, one feels like the Youth have experienced the power of their voice, and they will not be shut down ever again.

For Light

Because we really need to #EndSARS #EndSWAT and end whatever silk purse is being made out of the sow’s ear that is that organization. I make no claims whatsoever to this image.

***

The shadow of a long, dire night
has lingered over us, the weight
of the might of the ones who swore
to serve, and to protect, seared into
the small of our backs by their whips
and their boots, the air heavy
with the stench of the dread
which drenches everything
in their wake.

We fight for the light, standing strong
against the rowdy reality of reprisal,
that the bloated earth, sated by the blood
of the ones snatched before their time
might gain respite. That the ones to come
might fly free, dream and be. That home
may become a place where their visions
are not lost to the tyranny of the graveyard.

This is why we fight. For the light.
To banish the night.

Fall-ish

***

We woke up to a grey, watery mist rolling in the other day, a state of affairs which had me wondering for a few seconds if I had somehow ended up in good old Blighty. That was before the heft of air weighed down by 26-degree heat hit me in the face as I made my way to the bus stop. By the time we rolled into work, everything was shrouded in a thick, soupy, fog with visibility all but gone. It had all boiled away by 10 am though, with things returning to the way they always were: bone dry, warm with clear skies. Fog was not something I expected to encounter out here, although the roadsigns which show a 15km/hr speed limit in fog should have been a clue.

Back in Blighty, S. is now up to two jumpers for the evening and has given up the battle against the radiator. Out here, it definitely feels different, with the high heat of summer now giving way to a more breezy, cooler fall of sorts. Whilst there are no deciduous trees to turn their leaves into a mosaic of brilliant golds and browns, the date palms seem to be shedding their fruit onto the walking paths more frequently than I recall. Nature is certainly winning the battle of the wills with the grounds people who battle gamely to clean up whatever falls, a Sisyphean task if ever there was one.

Cooler evenings have meant that my evening walks now start earlier, which in turn has enabled me to return to an hour or so of reading before bedtime. The first fruit of that was finally completing Aida Edemariam’s The Wife’s Tale, a detail-heavy depiction of life in Ethiopia from the early 20th century to the beginnings of the 21st as told through the lens of her grandmother’s eyes. Intersecting as it does with a lot of the history of modern Ethiopia, it sheds a personal, intimate light on things like the Italian occupation, the deposing of Emperor Selassie, the civil war and the famine of the early eighties.

Between finishing the book and coming across a picture posted by a friend on Instagram, I have been thinking about our personal histories and how we curate them. This brought to mind the3six5 project, a web-based project which ran from 2010 to 2012. It featured a daily slice of life, written on the day by a different person and inspired a number of local versions, including our very own Nigerian one. I also enjoy images curated by the Bumpkin Files account, although it has a decidedly Black British slant.

Today’s concerts, #EndSARS protests and life under lockdowns are yesterday’s famines, civil wars and momentous election victories. If we’re not curating our personal histories, I wonder what lost personal perspective on today’s events we might rue when we’re old and grey and little Aoife asks what it was like to live in these times.

Awe

For The Sunday Muse Prompt # 128:

**
When Neil and Buzz
reached the top of the world
their feet ensconced
in the very dust
from whence they came they left in awe
at the fragility of things,
at how the pale blue dot
they left behind hung
as though by an invisible thread,
shimmering with the ethereal beauty
of the light lent it by the sun.
Butterflies fluttered
on their insides, their hearts
set free by the joy of seeing
in that place where gravity fades.

** Finally posted after hours of fiddling about with WordPress’ new block editor.. Fair to say I deeply resent being forced to use it… 😦

Of Hymns and Poetry-ing

Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash

**

For all my flirtation with being prodigal, I have never quite managed to untether myself from the Pentecostal faith tradition, especially the hand-clapping, foot-stomping, tongue-blasting, frenzied version that is your typical Nigerian church. There have been times I have felt right at home in a subset of it – my Eket days, and latterly, my sojourn in the ‘Deen come to mind – but for the most part, it has always felt designed for the loud and the intense, to the detriment (and inadvertent?) exclusion of those of us who live on the more introspective side of the spectrum. Not being blessed with the gift of nimble footwork, or being particularly willing to apply myself to acquire the skills involved if I’m being honest, Thanksgiving Sundays in that tradition were a veritable minefield, partaken in with the threat of being stuck behind an overly expressive dancer an ever-present danger.

When I have had the choice, I have gravitated to less exuberant – even orthodox – expressions of worship, thanks to an ongoing fascination with hymns. It is yet another one of the ways H’s long reach continues to colour the present. Many moons ago, she threw herself with great gusto into beating a ragtag group of non-professional singers into a semblance of a choir at the University Chapel we attended growing up. as I recall, whilst there were more than a few hairy moments, their enthusiasm was never in doubt. For all the stirring a clappy, happy, dancy song can bring, I think there is a certain gravitas a hymn can bring to a worship experience that is inherently different, and dare I say useful. The often arcane language surely helps, in the same way the King James’ Version still has its attraction amidst the plethora of more modern translations and paraphrases.

Choice in worship has been one of the boons of the lockdown for me, as it has for quite a few people if the numbers of people trying Alpha Online are anything to go by. I fear that for all the runction about churches and physical meetings particularly in America, not a lot has been said about the opportunities decoupling worship from place presents. Of course, there is the argument that too much choice perpetuates the idea of worship as something to be consumed rather than participated in, with the ability to hop around online enabling a search for an experience which soothes rather than one which challenges. I am grateful for the choice though, given the restrictions first of disease, and now distance.

It is a similar way I feel about poetry, for which I am thankful for the return of the second season of my favourite poetry podcast, Poetry Unbound. I suspect Pádraig Ó Tuama’s Irish lilt contributes to the sense of serious contemplation each episode brings, as does the care and thought clearly given to the selection of each poem. It helps that he is a theologian too.

In the introduction to the first episode of this second season which features Ada Limon’s Wonder Woman, Pádraig opines that poetry is “interested in stopping in small moments and telling the story of that moment”. It is the same way a hymn can hold a present reality and a future expectation in tension without breaking us. In my own pretend poetry practice, I find that the structure of a rigid form can often be what forces some semblance of sanity to arise from the depths of a chaotic emotional experience. Many of the Psalms sound like this, this conflation of poetry and prayer.

The other thing which triggered the journey down this path was listening to Steven Furtick’s message from last Sunday, another one of the gifts the lockdown brought. It includes a segment, from about 12:47 in, in which he goes back down memory lane and riffs on a few good oldies, capped off by two of my favourite hymns, including one I haven’t heard in a very long time (Come Ye Disconsolate).

In that same introduction to Season 2 of the Poetry Unbound pod, Pádraig says that poetry helps you “to cast your eye on small moments that can give you some fortitude [and] that can help you through”. That is a real-world definition of faith, isn’t it?

* Originally posted in A Prodigal Abroad, my (usually) Friday evening letter from the edge of the world… You can subscribe here.