(for Ken Saro-Wiwa & the Ogoni 8)
1) Let Us Pretend We Can Write It
Let us pretend we can write it, using
words that fled with the air from the tightening
noose to maintain their ground, words that floated
belly-up in the creek, their eyes coated
with the ash of the fire beneath. Let us
plait to the hair the maddened mourner plucked
from her head, the word that’s cry and loss and curse
and ask forgiveness for those that mocked.
But where is the word and where is the hand
to match the heart that bleeds alone? Don’t ask!
Pray only to trace the silence and the scream
and fix to its spot of earth
(which the murderer denies the martyr)
the echo with which our cry hallows their death.
2) Memory Was His Saviour and His Death
Memory was his saviour. And his death!
He remembered the swamps and the rivers,
the fish shivering in a choked net,
the colony of creeks and mudskippers
founded by retreating tides. And the farms
swollen with roots and bulbs. He remembered
a bounty whose splendour wrote psalms
chanted by the peasant to winds and birds.
Memory was his saviour and his death.
He had known the floods, the tides and the waves
that softened the land and brought the fish home;
at one with nature’s lore, they left no graves.
He came to know the black springs of the fuel oil
spewing liquid fire from iron pythons
coiled like rigs of death round their love and toil;
he came to know cities floated on the oil
plundered from the land under his feet, where
councils held in big halls to share the spoils
and memory became his saviour from death
when the housewife stood aghast by her plot
of cassava and herbs swallowed by slick
when trees, fish and animals in mourning
surrendered to acid rain and gas poison
when the canoe paddling children to school
capsized far from bridge or motorway
when the army invaded the village
shooting bombing burning raping laughing!
when the commander of the mob boasted
two hundred and twenty-one ways of killing,
memory became his saviour from the death
when he bore witness to the rape and the shame!
3) Hurry Them Down Into the Grave
Hurry him down, hurry them down into the grave,
hurry them down before their bones nail my guilt.
Now my eyes are redder than the blood I have spilled
and my vision no further than my gilded chair
recedes into my head to blaze forth my fear,
hurry him down, hurry them down into the grave.
Hurry! hurry! time marches against me swifter
than the horse. Before their blood cools, warned the witches,
they must be in their grave. Hurry to the grave
to bury the curse and their cause so the burning creek
and swamp may stand still for the drilling rig, its foot
planted in the core of their earth by the ace lifter.
Hurry them down, hurry them down, the witches prescribe
sacrifice. At Ramadan, I will prove my faith
by spurning Allah’s grace to slit man and ram. Hurry!
hurry! The world closes around me and I see Ken’s
spirit singing, his pipe now a gun pointed at me
and I quail with a terror I cannot describe!
Hurry him down, hurry them down into the grave
time races against me swifter than the horse
and my eyes redder than the blood I have spilled
grow too heavy for my face. Hurry to the grave
before my barrel runs over with the last drop
hurry! hurry! and save me from the brave.