Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Isidore's Wiles: The Fear This Time

Isidore's Wiles: The Fear This Time

The Fear This Time

When pristinely shaped entities
Were knocked into an equilateral triangle
By pirates lured inland by colonial lucre
Newfangled compatriots hailed three provinces of independence:

Nigeria we hail thee!

Then the horrid contraption was isoscelesized in turn
By the moil of ethnic heroes after the spoils of a brotherly war
Waged by two victorious angles against the vanquished one
And we rose in song for twelve states and the death of triangular tribalism:

Arise O Compatriots!

Now a geopolitical hexagon of jumbled cardinal points
Enciented by the greed of post-war jingoists
Encapsulate thirty-six states and a capital territory
Triggering a nagging quaere at the ebb of this flow:

Shall it begat yet another thirty-monther,
Or an eternal skirmish modulated by civil euphemism?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral


“Tell me, tell me, tell me
Dear grand ma,
What took water upstairs
Without limbs?”
“The coconut.”

“…two brothers
With the broadest faces?”
“The sky and the earth.”

“…kpum kpum gem gem?
“An antelope
Galloping uphill.”

“…uchakiri gbam gbam?
“Even a fool catches
The butt of a wisecrack.”

“…twins incommunicado?”
“The twin-pieced kernel.”

“…bully of children
Before their parents?”

“…god’s own towel,
Undriable in the sun?”
“The tongue.”

“…what the partridge
Is railing about all alone
In the woods, full throat?”
“The woman burden.”

“…tree with deepest taproot
…unbreakable drum
…unhealable wound
…two yam cutlets soused in palm oil
…the smelly but sweet,
    bearded bank
    hirsute grove
    near yet far
    implausible beaut
    canal of life
    unlikely victor?”
“I’m afraid, my dear
You’ll find that out yourself
When you are grown up
And wiser.”



puker of life
author of being
habinger of death
trespasser of boundary
            urinator, perforator, inseminator

tempter of the pious
sanctifier of the cursed
enslaver of the free
conqueror of the mighty
corruptor of the holy
empowerer of the frail
voice of the voiceless
myopia, utopia, dystopia

sans cullote extraordinaire
wolf in sheep clothing
robber in clergy collar
spear in worm camouflage
honey in vinegar potion
vinegar in honey lotion
mutant, militant, adjutant

the virgin’s nightmare
the damsel’s daydream
nemesis unbound
shoulderless but headed
vociferous even gagged
organ, Caliban, Taliban!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011




My muse feeds on the word
Plaited with inveterate wonder
At the awesome wavelength
Of its breadth span:

Painted on walls
Of ancient murky caves

Pictographed cum ideogramed
In ancient papyri and codices

Carved on coeval tablets
In hieroglyphic cuneiforms

Coloured in lurid picture
Of latter-day applied art

Written in book, newspaper
Signpost, -board or graffito

Structured as verse or prose;
In capitals or small letters

Crafted in cursives or italics;
Long, intermediate or short hand

Shouted to foreclose an eloping argument

Whispered head on pillow with other half

Sung a cappella sans accompaniment;
Or appassionato to the haunting beat
Of musical rhythms;

My muse is the word
That miniscule building block
To burgeoning bank of reason
Made flesh that the world be saved…

Damn you
It’s midday on creation day!



With a jeremiad of tears
On this dot of noon
Announced by the Braun on my wall
Minute hand shielding hour leg
But for muscular width and breadth
My pen seeks a fleeting hemistich
To hemstitch its fountainhead lost
On a balding page of treated pulp
At this act of poetic concubinage
Sacrilegious in proportion only
To its sacerdotal alma mater
When priests and priestesses
Tangled in unholy unions
Desecrating the Holy Land
In cursed purifications:

“Can’t the words, dear sir
Crawl to the end of their lines
For my first ink’s sake?”



Dear pen and nemesis
Cry a river if you so please;
Whoever said first fluids
Are drawn by the meek hearted
Even with just a hymen at stake.

With a ballpoint to fenestrate, ah!
The blood must rush to the eyes
To sift the words sailing forth
From nook and out of crevice
In a valley of raw rage
Brimming with choice words
And pithy paraphrases.

Deride me not, therefore
Whether in jest or joust
As to second-guess this noble art
A flashing fancy or pun
Undertaken by the idle and forbidden
For its own selfish sake
With neither gift nor garb
For an active primate mind
But fluff, floss and verbiage.

Unbeknownst to you
Sarcastic nib and all
By this rare calling
I am catapulted to the very tip
Of the tallest iroko in the land
Consequently commanding vista
More gregarious than Microsoft’s
More distant than the horizons
Where no human leg shall emblazon
Even by the next Harley’s Comet,
Farther ahead in deed than
Atop our forefathers’ shoulders
On which the wisest of men
Stand in judgement over life
Though they see not beyond
The absentee crook
Of their squashed noses…

From here I even sight
Where the very road of life
Forks into a thousand million lanes
Each leading to a point
Where return is counterpoint;
Too far ahead, I cannot
But dictate and pontificate
Like a demigod…

The toe prints here
All point straight ahead
Like their departed owners moved
Away from their heels
To the land of see no more…

But return I shall,
You in hand…



Sad song sung strung sector
Ululates for one like none
In this damned trade we chose
Unlike whom –
Before his premature retirement
Via the bifurcation through River Idoto
To the orangery of eternal repose –
I vouch not lines
Hidden and recherché
Capable of appreciation
Only by the anointed …

You see,
I received my anointing late
When the barbs to adorn words with
Were now few and far between
Like tails, fins and scales
On that damned sixth day
Of the Jewish creation myth
When God made man in His image
And fell into unflappable sleep
Like He had caused his creation
To make him a partner
From his missing rib
And both slept no more:

Which diminishes my craft not –
God’s bounty being seamless –

Nor his sainthood –
Holy St Christopher
Of the lines oblique –

After all,
I descry men
Engaged in worse guiles
With no sense of commitment
And none else as ennobling
As this art we preach:

Me, Chris and the rest
Who trade loaded words
For the sake of posterity
While others vend wares
For greed and prosperity;
Mould sentences into stories
That others may drink and savour
While they stack blocks in storeys
Erecting diverse towers to Babel

But ask I must
Even before my very turn:
Must we poets
All die in civilian wars
Concocted by elephantine leaders
Who sit back home lapping spoils
From a seriatim of courtesans
While we the grass of the earth
Fight to predictable deaths?



Calm down yet, friend of the voiceless
Or you ooze your life away
Before your monthlies are due–
Much as I can only ply my skill with you in hand
With you also are death sentences writ
According to the words of The Poet
God and Satan of the poetic craft
Who took me to the precipice of verse
And gave me a spirited shove…

From these dizzying heights
People are smaller than ants
The mighty and the small alike
Having all been downsized
To infinitesimal decimal specs
But I still make out many
Rollicking their paramours
Increase and multiplication of species
As farther away from their notions
As I am from the earth they defile –

Or whoever numbered tongue and toe
Among the organs reproductive…

Yet I espy another dozen denizens
Seeking lucre brazenly for its end’s sake
Sparing only their blind spots
To the lives they ruin
           limbs they maim
           minds they bend
           hearts they hurt
           heads they break
           hopes they dash
           eyes they blind
           tongues they clip
In the mindless quest
Of their nefarious heist …

Which does one shelve for the other?
The space I’m faced to fill
Is as brief and definite
In inverted proportions
As my vision is vast and infinite…

Or do I not make out men
From this acrophobic balcony
Killing their fellow humans –
The same quintessence of creation
Made in God’s own image –
Not for power or luck
Nor other such gainful pluck
But the kick they claim
Snuffing out another’s breadth
Affords the deranged undertaker
In a disguised guilt hamburger
Proffered by the devil…

Talk of him and temptation unfurls
Its clipped fangs of yore anew

Hurled up to me in a smokescreen
The first batch comes in a flying plea
Inflicting me with syrupy vertigo
Imploring that I end these lines
Before their due checkout time
Throwing myself,
Litany of woes et al
To a most predictable of ends…

But voice long sought and found
Reigns the atmosphere unbidden:
“Get behind me, author of enticements,
To what, in deed, do you amount
After all is said, written or typed
But a dishonoured ball point
In the hand of a self-published poet
Abandoned heretofore
In the bottomless abyss
Of his broken lines ...”

Friday, 25 February 2011


Isidore Emeka Uzoatu surfs his mounting barn of used books.

On the 23rd of August, 1993 the ineluctable permanence of change saw me shift domicile from good, old Lagos to old, good Onitsha. En route, I opted to move without a read. It could not have been on account of the excess luggage it’d have engendered. The trunk of my now-late cousin’s car in which I made the flight was well empty. You see, I have over time cultivated a belief – that wherever one ventures had ample capacity to provide one what one would read. And this at little or no cost – literally.
     Unless you are one of those justifiably allergic to used books for some proven and dubious reasons. For instance, some argue they are veritable sources for diseases – though some do come clean and new, some of them come dirty and jaded. Yet some others abstain from them for moral reasons, claiming that most of it are either stolen or obtained by trickery.  
     Any which way, though, they do come as cheap as anything else second-hand if one would not mind. Displayed on street corners, house frontages, mobile carts, on top of sewers and generally anywhere the vendor would not have to bother about stall fees much, they follow us wherever we veer.
     This lingering belief of mine was rendered most valid one sun-drenched day on the streets of Kumasi, Ghana. I had ventured that far – if you must know – following pulls from the very strings that made my afore-mentioned change of abode inevitable. Or, to start the chain reaction at the head of the stream, for the selfsame reason I had indeed bothered to leave my village for a distant school in the first place.
     Anyway, here I was in the Ashanti heartland on the day in question, forlorn to say the least. With nothing to read in between hardcore business interactions with outright strangers, my idle mind had only a few choices left – if you know what I mean. However, the last discussion over the next day, I had to make my way through a kind of subway between two walkways. Lo and behold, it was a veritable market for second-hand wares from Europe. While the multitude attracted by the contents of a just-arrived trunk milled around the bric-a-brac it bared, I espied some glossy books in the mix. A closer look for curiosity’s sake and I left the sale cite with a brand-new tokunbo copy of Jim Crace’s novel Six. Set in the City of Kisses it proved more than a suitable companion for the rest of the trip.
     Talk about serendipity!
     Why the jugglery? Well, it was the successful fishing out of the above novel from my now overstuffed bookcase that the idea of this piece came dawning. The array of books it now housed lent further credence to a nagging suspicion that a guy may slowly have acquired some bug akin to an obsessive-compulsive disorder where the buying of used books is concerned. Only this case around, the books are not entirely worthless – their ages notwithstanding.
      Ordinarily, the source for a good read in a town as mercantilist as Onitsha should have given course for concern. Forget the Market Literature revolution that happened here before the Nigerian Civil War(1967-70). Those racy tales of “high life, useful advice and mad English” – like Kurt Thomez’ compilation described them – may have been unable to assuage the advanced thirst of my ultra-parched literary taste. If anything, they would have served as veritable side attractions like early African teams used to at the FIFA World Cup prior to Italia Novanta. Anyway, they have died a natural death like the slave trade with the Industrial Revolution. The printers and publishers behind the exploit left penniless following the war took the line of least resistance – bootlegging.
      Nevertheless, it was near the Main Market where those pamphlets ruled supreme that I bought the first book of my sojourn. After acclimatizing with the town’s unique propensities, I immediately caught that a guy did not need to make out time for book shopping. So in between a run and another I was attracted as always by a street side display of books on hard ground. Mostly school texts, I espied a queer one that seen the passage of many a sunny season, its title almost undecipherable from its cover. That was how I became the happy owner of Smokestack El Ropo’s Bedside Reader – “a (1972) collection of far-out fable, trustworthy lore and hot dope tales from Rolling Stone Magazine’s most lovable columnists”. If anything the odd compilation served to open my eyes anew to the magical powers of poetry with these epigamic lines in the poem #122 by Gary Von Tersch on page 101 of the avant-garde book:
I feel all tangled
in the shoelaces
of the night…    
     The pertinent poetic baptism, however, did not take place till I ventured the post office far. With mail to claim I arrived the uptown edifice to behold a line of book vendors each promising a change of stock every other day. I passed my doubts to the owner of the most prominent array in the pack, but not after I had acquired a priceless jewel from his exhibits. Modern Poetry from Africa edited by Gerald More and Ulli Beier was published in 1963 by Penguin. The 1965 reprint that I bought half eaten up by worms and roaches still had its pages and letters intact. Subsequent visits did yield some other poetry collections. Longman’s A Pageant of Longer Poems always came handy when writer’s block called for some breath of fresh letters written way back in time. Often just a browse down John Keats’ Ode To a Nightingale embedded between its covers often busted the blocks by the end of the second canto:
O, for a beaker full of the warm South,
   Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
      With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
         And purple-stained mouth;
   That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
      And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
      The New Oxford Book of Light Verse chosen and edited by Kingsley Amis with its “unstrained scansions” did also come handy at times. The 1978 sequel to The Oxford Book of Light Verse edited by W.H. Auden in 1938 being heavy with lightness. Of course also numbered here is Horn of My Love, Ugandan poet Okot p’Bitek’s 1974 interpretation of the poetry of the Acoli of Northern Uganda. Engaged in part to debunk the likes of his compatriot Taban Lo Liyong who thought literature grew only in books, it proved the veritable eye opener of its intention.
     Poems of Black Africa edited by Wole Soyinka surfaced at the right time. Needing a corpus of African poetry to find titles to the various parts of my novel in progress, it could not have come handier. But more than that it ended gifting me the poem from which the very novel’s title was adapted.
     The 1967 old school anthology West African Verse, chosen and annotated by Donatus Ibe Nwoga which I acquired one of its 15th impressions of 1982; Don’t Let Him Die the 1978 anthology of memorial poems for Chris Okigbo(1932-67) edited by Chinua Achebe and Dubem Okafor did the rest in their turns and a book was born.
     However, the most dramatic of these chance encounters with second hand bound volumes have always been with novels. On a certain day I had arrived just for the fun of it. No sooner did I dig in with the other yet-uncounted members of the Onitsha Used-Book Club than I saw Jack Nicholson looking up at me with that mischievous smirk on his lips from the cover of the1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kessey. An all-time favourite of mine, I so cherished the book that I thought its multiple-award-winning film from which the shot donning this later Picador paperback edition of the classic a travesty. The mere sight of the book lost in the mass that lay at my foot reminded me of the last copy I had since lost to a fan of the film version. You see, the uncommitted do not know that some book owners valued their books – used or brand new – as others did their blue-chip stocks.
     A chance passage across the express road from the Niger Bridge months later was to bring me to another ramshackle bookshop. Stuck between sellers of foodstuff and plastic vats, it was shear serendipity that veered my eyes to motley arrangement of books on hard ground. I had barely come to a full stop when my eyes again caught Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in which Ken Kessey’s progress was tracked ever since he declared himself the John Wayne of dope smokers. Hitherto I had only read bits and pieces of the Merry Pranksters from unauthorised sources.
     Another notable pick from here was The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. by George Steiner, a 1981 book I only read a review of – as well as the furore following its publication – in Time Magazine as an undergraduate. In no time I was running down the author’s astute defence of Hitler that had angered the worldwide Jewish community enough to burn some copies of the bestseller.
      Return trips to the post office always reaped ample harvests. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road presented itself after the 9/11 debacle. I was not amused when a character in the book published in 1957 compared their retinue as they headed to New York to Arabs going to bomb the city. It recalled a scene in the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner. The white father of Sidney Poitier’s would be wife in stating the reasons he thought the marriage wasn’t feasible asked his son-in-law what rank a product of such a marriage could ever attain in the United States of America. As frank as hell, he answered the position of Secretary of State. Which came to fruition with Collin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, save Obama upturns it in the 2008 elections!
     So much for the power of a writer’s imagination and its transforming powers – heeded or unheeded. I was to pick up a clearly bootlegged copy of Chinua Achebe’s 1984 pamphlet The Trouble With Nigeria on yet another visit. The argument of the pamphlet was only becoming more prophetic then. Its length and breath ultimately attracting me to another slim volume that kept it company on the floor of their display: The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon. I could hardly wait to get home to refresh my mind with the shenanigans of men like Sir Galahad coasting lime in a park and Captain the Nigerian who insisted on his Benson and Hedges when his fellow hustlers made out with Woodbines!  
     Appositely, this brings me to latest member of my bookcase. Slim like the foregoing, unlike them I had never heard of it before the sultry afternoon it confronted my oculars from its obscure display spot of the day. Titled The Notebook and written in 1994 and published two years later by a certain Nicholas Sparks it left such an impression on me afterwards that I did not regret the gamble. Much like an earlier, thinner 1970 volume Love Story by Erich Segal had left in me. While the former handled love undeterred by Alzheimer’s, the love doves in the latter had to cope with leukaemia. I was introduced to the later by Raymond a school friend and I had demurred. At last – long after graduation – I braved the challenge but has set neither eye nor ear on Ray ever since.
     But by far the happiest addendum to the two-tier wooden case is a copy of my own novel Vision Impossible seated in pole position at its apex. Regardless that I hear no applause after a roll of drums, here I am genuflecting like the lizard that fell from a height.
      Anyway, I’m off to the post office – my bookcase sure wants some more genres…

Thursday, 17 February 2011

SPIES - A Poem

(To Safiye Amajan)

Spies of the world come
In differential conduits
Fired by uncommon zeal
Of assumed invincibility
That could stop
The annual migration of game
From the Serengeti to the Masai Mara… 

Them appointed by men
Feed reports to protuberant bosses
In shibboleth, code and argot
Feeding fat on the facile sin
Of immediate misinterpretation
Only shortening the desired goal
Of gaoling the usual suspects…

Those anointed by gods
Are ever at their elements
Assassinating innocents
Hard at work for God
Educating the children
Lest they fell headlong
Into same ignorance trap…