Coming Up For Air

Based on a photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

**

That doing and not doing are both habits is something that I have come to grudgingly accept over the past month, seeing as the longer I was away from here the harder dragging myself back here seemed. In my defence real life has been manic, the stultifying pressures of time-sensitive deliverables not lending themselves to the pursuit of non-essential, creative pursuits. I have myself to blame for some of that pressure, seeing as I somehow thought fitting a poem a day challenge into everything I had going on would be doable. I made it through fourteen days of that – a minor miracle at least. With some breathing space coming up towards the end of the month, my hope is to go back over the prompts, edit, write some more, and begin the process of pulling some of the pieces together into a chap book for the evaluators in January 2020.

Winter is very much here, not enough to turn on the heating (I love it cold at night for sleep) but enough to feel the bite in the wind at noon when I make a beeline for the canteen to grab my regular lunch time fare. My evening walks now include a hoodie for some warmth and protection against the chilly weather which, believe it or not, hovered just above 10 deg C the other night. We have had rain a couple of times too, in addition to the occasional heavy fog rolling in like a wet blanket. Rain and fog most assuredly did not cross my mind as weather effects to expect out here. A learning experience if ever there was one I think. The next milestone – six months in the current gig – is just round the corner. I’m hoping that it goes well, bucking the recent trends of lay-offs, hiring freezes and all the other things the headwinds facing my industry seem to have driven every one from small, nimble operator to lumbering erstwhile giants to. Back in Blighty, Boris and his oven-ready deal have proven to be anything but that, with recent briefings suggesting that no-deal – by whatever name it is called – seems to be the most likely option. Surely his days in the hot seat must be numbered with any number of challengers from his ranks waiting in the wings it seems.

Oil, and the head winds facing the industry, are never far away from the conversation. The recent up-tick in oil prices and what seems to be some sense prevailing amongst the sabre rattling big producers and cartels perhaps delays the inevitable but oil has certainly has its day. In conversation with G the other day at work, we concluded that our generation is probably the last one that will benefit from the ‘largesse’ of the oil industry. The latest cuts at one of my previous employers – whilst borrowing to keep up paying dividends – certainly removes any sense of rose tinted glasses. It is a numbers game now, and any notions of pride in esoteric knowledge very much need t be tempered by the realities of life. I am betting on data and porting my skills into adjacent industries.

Proper reading has taken a back seat to everything else with the only real time I’ve had been on the bus to and from work. Audio books and podcasts have come to the rescue in that regard. Here, for your pleasure are a few bits and bobs from what I have managed to consume.

  • Season 2 of perhaps my favourite podcast is still going strong, now standing 22 episodes deep and featuring a wide variety of work from folk such as Lucille Clifton, Chris Abani, Gregory Pardlo and Ada Limon. Next to Roger Robinson’s A Portable Paradise, I am finding Dilruba Ahmed’s Phase One an especially evocative one. Something about learning to forgive oneself is particularly resonant given the year we have all had in which carefully laid plains have been disrupted by things outside our control
  • A thoroughly fascinating and wide ranging conversation between Nanjala Nyabola and Yousra Elbagir over at Intelligence Squared had me nodding and smiling to myself from time to time at how very articulated several of the thought which have been kicking about in my head were made. The power of passports is something that I know only too well.
  • My views on government are shifting, decidedly I think, in the direction of smaller, less bloated forms. Fareed Zakaria certainly makes the argument in Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World that the quality of governance is what matters more than the quantity. Nigeria certainly has a lot of quantity (and bloat) and very little quality, good old Blighty seems to have neither to me.
  • And from Church of the Way, Land of The Living, which has become one of my favourite songs over the past month. It might be the song itself, or its lyrics which soothe a craving for certainty but all told, I think it is well worth a listen.

30. Forgiveness

For Day 30 of the November Poem-A-Day Challenge. Photo by Marco Ceschi on Unsplash. After Dilruba Ahmed

***

And I am learning
to forgive myself,
to not let the weight
of the worries of the world
hang heavy on my head,
to accept that sometimes
the broken things
around my feet
are the world being itself,
that sometimes beauty slips out
like light through a cracked down
from the riven parts of a fragile bowl,
that sometimes it is not you
or me or the distant things between
but life, and living
and being breaking,
and beginning the cycle
anew.

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.