Kunle Okesipe lives in Nigeria. His poems have appeared in The Tiger Moth Review, The Revolution Relaunch (TRR), Active Muse, adda as well as a number of anthologies.
A question more, Homer, you bard of Ilion songs,
Publicist of war horses and tempests of urgent breaths:
What boon are laurels now to shoreless heroes
turned swine and faithless shades?
Though Ilion lies in the ashes of humble fragments,
Their oars question still the slippery heart of the sirens’ seas.
What solace are songs in the field of eager ruins,
Amidst the malice of wind buffeting the guileless ships
Of Achaeans to the finishing line of treacherous reefs?
Adrift on the Aegean Sea now, plebeians and princes alike,
Butterflies fanning the fire of flagrant waves,
Feathers tangled in a single hug of elements,
Soul mates to seals and bitter seaweed.
Hector descended into Hades, his valour mute like still water,
But so are your heroes of Ithaca in earthly flesh and puny corselets.
Elucidate to us the ox worth of rivers dislodged by blood,
Or the metrics of contagious pyres that raged in Troy
Beside the coquetry of Leda’s daughter,
The launcher of heedless ships and spears joyous as needles of rains
And when at last Menelaus rinses his eyes
With the silver encore of Helen’s smile,
And walks an inch taller on the springs of her easy airs,
Bedecked with new riches and the dowry of her flammable beauty,
Compute for us the quantum value
Of vanquished husbands their wives still desire,
Or the pauper kisses their children are dying to take for dinner.
Recite to us the arithmetic of a suicide rite to save a bridal bed.
THE BLACK MAN’S BURDEN*
– Not for Rudyard Kipling
But we reworked our steps when in the desert
The sun its method revised; sands once leashed
In the ampersands of roots their artless colours unfurled,
And we mourned with meagre tears
The burial by dust of the first harvests of death.
We knew, like a pack of cards that fate played,
Some cards might win;
But we also knew that cards were cards:
A dealing hand would deal again after a round of loss.
We knew like a stowaway that falls on the roof of Heathrow,
As a little tribute to gravity, that death might vary its style,
But every mode of dying is same to a chicken in a pot of soup.
So in the second moon we left a village of desert hares,
A settlement besieged at night by nocturnal hunger of owls,
And in the morning by double digits of feline ambush.
Then came the night of our middle passage,
In a boat weak in wood but strong in dare,
With the suave trafficker, his wares of girls
And their twin assets of trading breasts,
With a boy eating an onion to taste right
For a picnic of holidaying sharks,
With a seer gifted in forecast of soccer and a talent for betting,
For a fee of water, we sold off a prophecy of bliss in Lampedusa
To a man in perfect jeans but tattered French,
He was not the first to bequeath his last breath to the charity of wind,
Nor the last to enter the third course of a Mediterranean meal
Of a rabble of honest piranhas and psychotic sharks.
Without counting the women tricked into commerce of flesh,
Without counting the skeletons in suits
And a crepuscular nostalgia of orphaned shoes,
Without recalling the dust storm of the desert
And the witchcraft of insatiate waves,
Here we are at last, the crumbs untouched by the cutlery of death,
At the gate of Lampedusa, half devils and half children,
O Kipling, to save your sons from exile with us,
The cry of hosts you humoured at your doorstep at last.
* “The Black Man’s Burden” was first published in adda [January 9, 2020]
by Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of
the Commonwealth Foundation. www.addastories.org
Poetry in this post: © Kunle Okesipe
Published with the permission of Kunle Okesipe