Poems by Obi Nwakanma

Obi Nwakanma is one of the Nigerian literary awards winning troika invited by Harvard University to represent New Voices From Nigeria at a recent Africa Events Reading (the other two being Maik Nwosu and Akin Adesokan also featured on this site). Poet and journalist, he featured at the Poetry International Festival in 1995. Holder of a BA degree from the University of Jos in Nigeria, Nwakanma was a visiting scholar at one of the pre-eminent universities in Nigeria, UN at Nsukka. Formerly an Assistant Editor at the Sunday Vanguard, he is currently a visiting scholar at The Meeting School, Rindge, NH, where he teaches Literature, Creative Writing and Journalism. Author of Thirsting for Sunlight and The Roped Urn - winner, Association of Nigerian Authors Cadbury Poetry Prize in 1996 - he is at an advanced stage in the writing of The Stifled Sneeze, a biography of the late poet Christopher Okigbo who died during the Biafra war. His poems and articles have appeared in various publications and columns such as The Orbit. 

The Four Seasons 

ICICLES fall from trees, molten with age, 
without memory - they stand aloof in their 
nakedness - they limber; 
like the gods terrified into silence, 
like tall brooding deities looming out of the 

The forest hugs them 
carves them into stones, 
Etches them into the slow 
eastern landscape: rivers, hills 
the slow running water, 
times broken inscapes…

The willows are burdened with ice 
the white shrouds of burial spread 
upon the earth's ravaged face; the eyes 
unseeing, the mouth unspeaking, 
a gust of wind proclaims the anger of 
immemorial ages; the cycle, the 
eternal ritual of mystical returns - 

The cypress - whitening -
boneless; wearing her best habit, 
a pale green in the forest of ghosts -

And so I walk through this windless night 
through the narrow imponderable road 
through the silence - the silence of trees -

I hear not even the gust of wind
I hear only the quiet earth, thawing underneath; 
I hear the slow silent death of winter -

where the sun is yellowest. 
But above, Monadnock looms 
like some angry Moloch, her 
white nipple seizing the space

drained of all milk... 

A she-devil beckoning to worshippers 
seductive - her arm stretching outwards -
to this lonely pilgrim
lost in the mist: 

Behold the school of wild bucks 
Behold the meeting of incarnate 
spirits -
Behold the lost souls bearing tapers 
in rags of rich damask, 
Down Thomas - the saint of 
unbelievers - down the road to bliss 
Down to the red house, uncertain 
like a beggar's bowl hanging unto the cliff 
of withdrawn pledges, where the well is 

I have dared to live 
beneath the great untamed. 

To every good, to every 
flicker of stars along the pine 
To every tussle with lucid dusk, 
To every moonlit pledge, to 
every turn made to outleap 
silvery pollen, 

I have desired to listen - to listen -
to the ripening of seasons.... 

Winter 2001
This is ONE of a continuing sequence. 


Marrakech: the grey hairs of 
Atlas, streaks of the light of years, 
like truth accompanied by a bodyguard. 

It is not war: the fast tumble 
is no war, Nadia. 

Two pendants, each of hearts, and 
the silvery lock leashed unto time; 

Is no war: but the travesty of distance, 
And this moment, a full breast glistening 
out of the moon, the darkened streets 
and hooded, like the lawless, 
stranger or wayfarer: 

It is the pod streaking with milk 
smelt so close, it vanishes, 
like the gecko abandoning her tail. 

The Horsemen

for Christopher Okigbo 
Emrnanuel Ifeajuna & 
Chukwuma Nzeogwu


It was a room above the alcove
in a city renewed by junipers

And by desires... 

Stripped of words, 
the moments recalled; 
where the tower, 
lo, was in sight: 

memories undaunted by sound 
or flames of the amethyst, 

spoke to me; 
spoke to me like the preacher from…

I recall this moment staggering through the wind, 
when its breath hissed at the earth; 
as we leaned out of the window 
in that moment when the first light
streaked, joyous, out of the unalterable street... 

Then, tuned to the immanent choir of the grassland, 
untangling from the sea -

Then, stripped to the last detail, from her sinewed skin, 
disheveled in the light, one aria from the immaculate concertina -

before her rebirth
a tongue licked through the core of my soul

Strange men in dark garments 
riding in slow, weary steps, 
paces of a far and distant journey -
in measured gestures

The clatter of hooves on the stone of the 
street; wakened from the depths of 
their tombs, long dead ghosts, 

memories of a carnage -

There was fear bred in that silence, 
nothing triumphant in their last march

nothing triumphant where 
once a plot is weaved, a rider rides 
into anonymity: 

what is it that they seek -

These silent riders? 

Glory? Memory? 

What is it that they want among those 
who have fallen from their swords? 

Piety? Ablution? Anonymity? 

It is not enough to bury the sword 
in the fold of the embrace; 
nor is it wise, even prudent, to 
seek meaning in past deeds 
when those deeds are immortal, 
or of an impure genealogy -

What do they seek in the bowel of the tide; 
in that place, where Onishe, 
spirit-mother, swallowed the ravishers of her children? 
Graves? Graves in the tide? 

Theirs are troubled gestures full of potent wishes. 

…are those wishes -

for as they came, those riders, each
hoof in the ascent; 
each eye veiled by remorse, or anger or

a forlorn thought -

for as they came, weighed down by ancient baggage, 
a skin of water, a measure of wheat, some
penicillin, in case of epidemic
a stretcher to fetch the dead; 
an hourglass, and then the gloved idol, 

the one that ordered the massacre -
who rode ahead of the light; 
muttered a command: 'halt!'. 

From The Horsemen and Other Poems