Ode to the Day We Lost the Future
the headmistress’ voice broke
inside my ears– her voice wrapped
up the term. My classmates dispersed
into their parents’ clasped fists.
Alone, I sat in the school lobby,
my result sheet in my hands
like a baby:
waiting and waiting and waiting.
The headmistress grabbed my hand
as a monkey does a banana;
home moved closer.
Outside the house,
my mother’s voice
beat the afternoon to life;
my father was pressing her head
to the frame of their marriage.
Where I stood, my eyes soaked
my palms to shreds.
– For my grandmother, upon losing her third child.
July 11, 1982
at the hospital gate: my grandmother
stood on the edge of herself.
My uncle’s head on her hips, the sun
grew cold around them:
my grandmother’s lips,
Leaves at the mercy of a violent breeze–
Mumbling a language only her God
understood. My grandfather
came out of the ward
their daughter was dying–
his face, wearing a message
from the dead. My grandmother’s
scarf slipped from her head,
laying on the ground
like a lifeless snake– her hair, insignia
of madness. She swung
her legs– her slippers dived in the air
like birds. The street stared–
My grandmother, a moving monument.
My uncle screamed: my grandmother
unable to see her madness.
after Chloe Honum
Dec. 2, 2010, Lagos.
We were gods: I and Uche: we made
women with our mouths, hanged
them around our teeth like braces.
His father’s house, clouds coagulated
like steamed stew– forcing evening
out of its duty little by little.
We argued: I and Uche:
we emptied our thoughts
into the inglorious past
our feckless fathers mapped out for us–
Aren’t these men supposed
to be our heroes,
instead of their women?
The pocket where I kept my hero’s
dying voice when we departed
like electric shock–
My step-father’s drunken voice
over the speaker pounded
in my heart. I ran.
Running on a track, filed
with ranges of trees;
leaves bent and rose
like Muslims in prayer.
It rained. Raining.
I ran. Running–
The flaming butt of a cigarette,
the only light in the sitting room.
My step-father’s voice spread
into the darkness– my mother
lost an eternal battle.
My step-father spread more darkness,
his courage soaked in his tears.
Then, he apologised.
D.M. Aderibigbe was born in 1989 in Nigeria. He holds a B.A in History and Strategic Studies from the University of Lagos. His work has been selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the APBF New Generation African Poets Chapbook Series. A recipient of 2015 honours from The Dickinson House and the Entrekin Foundation. His poems appear in African American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Normal School, Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, Spillway, Stand, and have been featured on Verse Daily. His first full-length manuscript, My Mothers' Songs and Other Similar Songs I Learnt received a special mention in the APBF/Prairie Schooner 2015 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. He's also co-editor of More Than a Number: Poems and Prose for Baga. His essays appear in B O D Y, Blueshift Journal and Rain Taxi.
Q: Discuss your process as a poet, what sparks a poem and how you work it through to completion (or abandonment.)
A: I begin poems through manifold processes. Sometimes a word flies into my head. Sometimes a line, and a poem rises like sunlight from there. There were days I woke with lines lodging in my head like ache. At other times, poems are sparked by exigency. Such as things I come across while jumping around Lagos on different danfo buses. For instance, one day, while still an undergraduate at the University of Lagos I left school for a friend's house in Bariga, (a slum in Lagos where I was born). While on a street just before the street I was born, a man was seriously raining blows on a woman just on the other sidewalk. Two men tried interfering. But the man kept the two men away, saying "Iyawo mi ni, kilo ko yin ni be?" Meaning "She's my wife, what concerns you?" In Yoruba. That particular event reminded me of my past and birthed a lot of poems in my first manuscript. There are other things that push me to my writing desk too, but I think these suffice for now.
Talking about how I work a poem through to completion, this process is a chameleon's skin. This is because at times, the line or word that sparks a poem ends up not being in the poem and at other times it ends up being the nucleus of the poem. Same thing goes for events which spark some poems. Severally, I've ended up wanting to write about a particular event but ending up writing something else. You know the muse is an erratic god.
Q: “These men were supposed to be our heroes/instead of their women.” The tension between male and female is palpable in these poems. Thinking of Achebe’s portrayals of a nation struggling between its own vision of itself and a colonial one, how do you see these struggles in the context of a changing society?
A: If I were to be Achebe's fruit, I cannot be older than his 3rd or 4th grandson. I say this to underline the chasm between the time Achebe lived and the time I live. Achebe's time was predicated by nationalism and its concomitant struggle for freedom. Hence, everything at that time was nationalistic including literature. Achebe like most of his contemporaries such as Soyinka, Okigbo, Ngugi among others tried to show how Africa and Africans should strive not only to be independent politically, but culturally and socially. Such independence was achieved (even though we all know it is only on paper as Frantz Fanon rightly observed). As such focus shifted from external struggles to internal struggles. Such as the struggle for equality by the African woman and improvement in the quality of their life. If at the end of the day, victory is achieved by the African woman, another struggle will surface like a child one didn't know he had. This is because the African society is a teleologic one and is striving towards perfection. Hence, once one struggle ends, another begins.
Q: What did you collect as a child – rocks, insects, stamps? – and why?
A: Ha!! As a child I was an implacable insect collector. At my mum's shop where she sold alcoholic drinks and pepper soup, I would turn matchsticks on the side of the kerosene stove she used and go along with the empty matchbox to hunt for insects. I would cup a housefly, then a spider, then a dragonfly, then a millipede and other insects I can't name and put all of them inside the matchbox. I would close the box and open it every 10 minutes to see what and what insects survived and didn't. I did this for quite a long time but couldn't get my desired result, because instead of the insects to battle themselves they were all struggling to escape from the matchbox.
I can't say why I collected insects at this time other than to say it is one of those puerile things we all did at one stage of our lives.
Q: Please tell us where you write from now – the landscape of your physical surroundings – and is that the landscape of your imagination as well?
A: I currently live in Lagos, the city where I've practically lived all my life. Lagos is the most populous black city in the world and by far one of the most developed. The city shares so much similarities with major cities in the world such as New York, London, Berlin, Milan, Tokyo, Paris among others. Hence, as a big city, Lagos is complicated with so much stories to tell. And I'm the kind of poet who almost cannot write poems without locales. Physical setting plays a major role in my poetry which is which you will see Lagos and other cities in which I've lived featuring in my poetry, covertly or overtly. So somehow I can say that the landscape of my physical surrounding is the landscape of my imagination as well.