from The Oil Lamp (Africa World Press, 2005)


It was the fourteenth month of the fuel crunch
and stoves cooked cobwebs in cold corners.
Dreading the spirits that live in trees,

they would not break green twigs to make a meal,
till the fuel crunch compelled choice between
tree and human, today and tomorrow.

The forest quivered as trunk after trunk snapped,
and a nameless rage wagged green-fingered
branches in the air as they fell to the hungry axe.

They smelt edible death in food cooked
with logs still so alive they hissed,
then puffed out clouds of wet smoke so bitter

the women wept into their pots.
In the fourteenth month of the fuel crunch,
with oil lamps dry and dusty, nightfall

wrapped their village in a veil of ink.
They turned to candles till their need made wax gold,
forcing them to roost earlier than their hens

on moonless nights when fireflies mocked
the dimmed promise of eletiriki.



Electric light. Electric for short,
or eletiriki, when conducted
through the cables of their simple speech.

Promises made by a hard-hatted
minister at the tape-cutting for the first
well withered with the drilling tree.

When the tree glowed in the dazzle
of lighted stockades – halogen-eyed Cyclops
guarding the well – they could touch the day

shaped by a minister’s words when their oil lamps
should sputter and die at the flick of a switch.
The dream of eletiriki burned bright

for forty years, powered by a plant,
till the tree drilled its last barrel.
The electric Cyclops blinked, moved

to another well in another place
to guard a fresh promise of light.
Now the rusted sinews of the tree,

heaped on the slick-crusted site of the well,
glower at the sky, a promise in rust-flakes.

From Augusta’s Poodle (forthcoming)


I made my first big catch as a fisherboy
in that river of our dreams. A warm wave
of air had swept the sky clean and bathed
Ẹtẹrobọ with afternoon’s silver light softening
for evening’s longing arms. It was Friday
at last and we longed, Isaiah and I,
for respite from teachers’ book-bound knowledge,
from sums and social studies. The open
and the water called to us as we stared
past Mr Enuboda through the window,
keening for the closing bell, our nostrils
already filling with the sorcerer’s scents
of the swamp heated and cooled then heated
and cooled again with the frenzy of the sun
in September. Isaiah got home before me—
he lived just over the school fence with his
grandma—and was always first to shed
uniform for fisherboys’ gear. On the way home,
we chose Ẹtẹrobọ, Ivovo to follow
next Friday, and Eni thereafter. The water
at its highest, we cast our self-made rods,
baited with worms, from either side of the bridge.
I saw a swarm of fingerlings swimming
with the current towards my rod idling
in the calm water. And then I saw the floater
sink suddenly and far deeper than a hatchling
could take a baited hook. Both hands quivering,
I pulled out a glossy black snakehead
longer than my forearm. I was done fishing
or playing and with Isaiah still marveling
at my luck, raced home in the setting sun.