Poetry Suite by Tope Ogundare

Editor Sam Preminger, Poetry, August 29th, 2019

"come and experience death in all its naked glory"

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Poetry by Tope Ogundare

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the living dead

a mother weeps for her children dispersed in the air
by the bombs. she breathes them in with the smell
of burnt flesh. her voice is hoarse from ululations.
mourners force platitudes down her throat.

death came visiting and left behind heaps of
charred bodies and bleached bones. like the city
thrown into darkness by the failed
Power Holding Company, the lights are gone
from her eyes.

these are the tourist attractions of this country.
come and experience death in all its naked glory.
feel it in the air. taste its silken smoothness
on your tongue. hear it in the music and dance.

watch us gyrate to discordant tunes, nimble feet
made light by psychotic introversion. our reality
is like a hazy dream. drums of war serve to
lighten our dead souls. our hoarse hollow laughter
echoes in the empty chamber of federalism.

this country is a woman weeping for her children.
a mother must not know her children’s grave.
she must hold on instead to memories of birth pains
and life’s piercing cries. and become another, dead
alive.

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my tears flow towards the sea

one day, i will tell the story of how you lived
olubi, daughter of the great hunter.
i will tell of how you loved
and how love killed you
how it maimed you and tore at
your mangled carcass.

kemisola, you were meant to be pampered
and steeped in wealth, but you lived in
penury and shared a bed with lack.
it was lack that tied you down to the bed,
that took away your voice
and sent you on a journey to the land
of the forgotten.

mary, i swear on your honor
that you will not be forgotten.
i swear on the sacredness of your memory
that your name will litter the pages of history:

the queen that never got to sit on her throne.
the warrior that died on the threshold of her house
on returning from her final conquest.
your heart gave out at the sound of victory,
it stayed true in battle, but betrayed
you when it was time to share the spoils of war.

i will write ballads and sing your name
on the mountain top:
warrior princess, daughter of the great medicine man.
you, who looked death in the face
and snatched your son from its jaws.
how easily did death defeat you, my mother!
how easily it plucked you like a ripened fruit
hanging low from the tree.

there was no one there to look death in the face,
no one terrible enough
to strike terror in its heart.
there are few like you, darling mother,
diminutive in stature, but a giant at heart
i am in deep pains, my mother,
like a woman in the pangs of labour.
i weep for you maami,
my heart is a spring of tears
& my tears flow towards the sea,
towards the land of sunshine, across the atlantic,
towards the sand that covers your remains

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dueling with death.

it was at adewusi village that i dueled
with death. life turned on me
walking into the enclosing darkness.
in the spaces between time, i heard
the sound of silence.

somewhere on the tarmac in kazaure,
pieces of my skin still lie interspersed
with the asphalt from my first
altercation with death. then, it was
a shouting match, with a blow or two.
i walked away wincing in triumph.

but here in adewusi, i was beaten into
submission. skidding, swerving,
somersaulting and slamming
rudely onto rain-soaked soil,
suspended upside down, surrounded
by the smell of freshly cut grass and
the water’s quiet gurgle.

i have a reminder from that encounter:
this hypertrophic scar lodged between
my hippocampus and frontal cortex
that flares and torments

in eidetic imageries playing in repeat.
a time capsule and pain portal
of depolarization transporting me
to the gates of death again,
and again, and again.

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olubi

olubi, your birth was precarious,
a prophecy & foreshadow of your life.
your sustenance coiled around your neck.
you fought to live, battled the cord constricting
your throat to breathe your first.
it was your first battle, the test of your resolve
and you won.

your mother named you olubi
so that you would not forget your battle with life

you will learn in the years that follow
how love is another kind of noose
and for a while you will stand on the stool
and let it hang loosely around your neck
while you drown in your tears.
but once again you will struggle
and you will win.

but before all that, your mother danced
in awe and marveled at your might.
she returned from the farm with a bundle
birthed underneath a cocoa tree,
midwifed by nature herself.

you will return time and time again to the tree
and listen to the tale of your battle.
how with bated breath the birds watched,
how the trees leaned forward and lent
of their might, how even the playful wind
stopped in her tracks and bit her nails.

you will smile when the wizened tree tells of
the cheer of the forest when your cry
pierced the silence, and mother nature
presented you to the world for the first time.
you will learn again of your strength and return renewed.

but you stopped visiting the trees,
stopped hearing how strong you are.
you allowed death to best you this time.
mother, you succumbed to death
too easily.

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Header image courtesy of Tim Okamura. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Tope Ogundare is a Nigerian, and writes poetry, short stories and essays. His first full-length poetry book was released in 2018, titled ‘The Book of Pain’. His works have appeared in Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Pilcrow and Dagger, Moonchild Magazine, TinyTim Literary Review, DASH, Intima, Snapdragon, The Aquila, Argot Magazine, Pangolin Review, Minute Magazine and are forthcoming in Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Charles River Journal and elsewhere. His poems have also been featured in two anthologies and forthcoming in Cities, a poetry anthology edited by Paul Rowes. He shares his writing on www.topeogundare.wordpress.com and on Medium (@topazo).

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Sam Preminger

Sam Preminger is a Portland-based poet. Their work has appeared throughout various publications and they hold an MFA from Pacific University.