Remi Raji's (Aderemi Raji-Oyelade) collections are Webs of Remembrance and A Harvest of Laughter (both Kraftbooks). He was born and currently lives in Ibadan, Nigeria, where he teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Ibidan.

Riddle II

I AM...

the clenched fist
itching to break the brows
of incontinent emperors

the lonesome feather
soothing the bloody tears
of bruised stones

the secret alphabet
the sickle in surprised bosoms
of gruesome weeds

the eager axe
driving rage into rocks
seeking honey in cursed caves

the zebu cow among cannibals
the butcher's love
neither frightens nor fascinates

But am I not the cock, am I not the rope
I feel no ease in this riddle of balance.

The Spirit

If Poetry be
the murmurs of gods
stake me
stab me
with the spirit of tongues
if Poetry is
the music of the mind
bind me
stake me
to whispers
of winsome winds...

Teach me
what rainfalls drum
into corn-ears of Earth
what the sunbird sings
what wandering feet tell morning dews.

If Poetry be the word
which gives birth
to flesh and phantoms of worlds
show me
what riverbeds hide
from wandering eyes

show me
the monkey's path
in a platoon of twines
and trees
Oh tell me
the ancestry of age-
less roads.

Then tell me what desolate streets
tell the prodigal sun
what common lips tell the cruel crown
what patient paupers ask the petty prince.

And if Poetry be the horse of glee
Give me the fluent kisses
of flood above sand and stones.
Give me
the beauty in the storm
the storm in that silent sea
give me the cricket's horn
the chameleon's loin
the bee's tenor
the parrot's echo
the squirrel's sax
the wind's flute...

Give me the sunscript of dance
Stake me, stretch me to the spirit house of songs.

Flakes: An Haiku in Parts
March 6, 2001; while waiting, delayed, inside Terminal 4 of JFK Airport, New York


The world so white, the wind so black
My tropical feet need more springs to dance

A death inside
A mocking coldness all around
A rare second
A cosmetic sun peers unnoticed

The flaky white dust
The battering male wind
The skin-deep stings
Icicles of rain without water
Embodied and whitened storms
This is my first story of snow...

Twice I go deaf twice I live
Numb to the world
I can hear my accent in the wind
I become the onion of a thousand cloths and colours

Here the sky reminds me
Of the saw-miller's pastime
All my thought buried
In the cold indifference of pine trees, and dust.

"1.00 a.m. outside Binghamton's Greyhound station?
You will freeze to death, brother..."
"Oh, African, does it even snow in your city?"
"No, no," two trembling lips mutter
"Unfortunately, my nation knows no flakes
And I must add too, no earthquakes..."

My curiosity has carried me this far, where
Wetness is all the warmth I have
Where Nature nullifies all knowledge
And Science becomes trapped in her own laboratory of incest

Soon so soon
I rinse my feet from this land
Where the rainbow breaks in whitened storms

And soon, I will be back, away from another tropical storm
Of lack, of lust, of anger and a different kind of hunger
I will return burdened with robes next time

Sand, storms, snows...
My wind gathers storms again
This compulsion to know kills all coldness.

Words can heal
for LC, February 9, 2001

The septic wound of a thousand years smoothens
In the dye-wool of tender metaphors...
Words can seal the pain of a lifetime
Words can make love to bleeding hearts
And the most granite of looks can fail
In the presence of wondrous words...
The weak in battle becomes invicible
in a clout of guided utterance...
Words give us the music we drink,
We dance, on the edge of limping words
And when everything else fails
We turn to the windy poetry of words
The difference between the dead and the living
Words, the surname of our lives....

Woman, wear the wind
like the winsome night.

To Durban: A Becoming...

When I read my poem of fire
I sought her face for vital signs

I rolled my tongue into an algebra of dance
& waited for the sugarcane break of her voice

No, no, no she said.
Your fire is innocent
like the infant's grip at harvest time
weak like the dying embers
of a tired tourist
You do not know my children, my child

Uhmlazi, Empangeni, KwaDukuza
Gingindlovu, Umhlanga, Amanzimtoti
Do you know them: Umgeni, Inanda, KwaMashu
Ntshongeni, the tribal teats of Thekwini
Do you know them?

No I said, but I will seek them all
And I will sing for them till sunset
and after the aftermath the secret tales of cleaving love

I will write a tattoo of echoes
& make your breasts the valley of a thousand stories

Because I am the beautiful stem of your rainbow tree
And my blood flows in the sorghum of this soil

I will drive my fingers thro the trellis of your flesh
I will be one with your seeds and your children shall know my name.

She cuddled me into rapture, this woman of Bay
Then she said:

Listen is the conquest of death
the uncertainties of loving
the rough magician's tale
where hemlock becomes honey
where history chases myths into silence
and legends explode into history...
here's the story of my becoming, Durban, or is it Thekweni?

I will write the poem after this love lesson.