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Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

In the early days of the coup that brought
General Haroun Al Mahmud to power
the press of the world
camped on state house lawns
day and night day after day
dozens of them

Their gear hung from every tree
their goings on created a festive air
it was a carnival such as the city
and the country
had not seen

The new Strongman reveled
in the media blitz
he paused for photo ops and granted interviews
he gave press conferences
in his eyes these confirmed without a doubt
his own greatness and invincibility

One night he ordered a barbecue
and invited the press of the world
to eat, drink, dance
and be merry

The wily journalists
encouraged and fanned
the General’s every idiosyncrasy
and busily made footage
a media hungry world waited

In Lagos Nigeria
a mother returning home
after a punishing day at the market
hearing BBC and CNN voices
doubles up

“What ting Al Haroun
dun do again?
he dun kill another Archbishop?”
folks like her were insatiable
and they were legion
there was blood and there was fun

At the court of
General Haroun Al Mahmud
at the grand old colonial mansion
the British built to display power
there was never a dull moment

A marriage bid today
for the hands of the daughter
of one of Europe’s ruling family

Tomorrow battle plans in all earnest
against neighboring states to teach them
in the General’s own words
lessons they will never forget

Now and then a mocking cable
dispatched to Washington
to the most powerful man on Earth
timed to cause the President
the greatest discomfiture

One morning fresh morning
a gift of a young virgin
kidnapped the other day on her way to school
now handed to his friend and companion
the young Scottish doctor
who saved his life from the syphilis bug

Now in the cool of the African evening
the barbecue sizzles
oriental and African aroma
mingle and add color to the night
oh such a night

Wine and conversation flows
the press of the world is in hot pursuit
they reach for their little packs
trinkets, perfumes, handguns, electronics
gifts for the General from the labs
and workshops of Europe

Now the General was a true natural
protocol abandoned
he does what only he can
sprawls on the grass
his monstrous legs akimbo
bantering and hollering

Soon wine and whisky take their dues
the moment arrives and the past returns
and the General is back again
where he once belonged
there now he hears a voice

“You and I must make a pack
we must bring salvation back
where there is love I will be there
“I’ll reach out my hand to you
I’ll have faith in all you do
Just call my name and I will be there

It was the King of Pop
but in Michael’s amplified voice
the General hears the voice of his own mother
it brought him back to the warmth
and comfort of the old colonial barracks
at the river’s mouth

Away from power and pomp and intrigues
away from the slaughter of innocent men and women
that his men carried on a daily basis on his behalf
away from the haunting cries
of the dying and the dead
back to the simple life he once knew
and loved

Years ago his own dear mother
writhed in agony on the dirt floor
of their simple hut
and bestowed upon him
on that silent night
the ultimate gift

Now here he was where it all began
here where as a young man
he and his buddies marched happily to the drill
of the Scotsman’s horse voice
none but Commander Neil Graham

And now the Union Jack flutters again
triumphant again in the cool African breeze
as he and the others march proudly
in tune with the crazed hollering of the Scotsman
Eyes right!
Presenter armes!

Rifles click!
the men come to a dead stop
and for a moment nothing moves
the band strikes God Save the Queen

With a jerk the General returns to the World
back to the Country whose President
he had just shot
and found himself surrounded
by the Press of the World
fighting for a shot of his silly moon face

someone save my life tonight

John Otim


Posted on: March 26, 2012

From a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land
it’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace, it’s the voice of every man

Tender is the Night

The cadence
and the power
of the lyrics
flowing through
the amplified voice
in the blue of
the night
threw a mantle
of pure magic
about the room

On that magnetized
cloud so dense
they waltzed
and the truth
of the lyrics
overcame them

The amplified voice
so cool
threw a mantle
so dense

And the good time
and modern pop
found a unity
so complete

In the tenderness
of the night
they heard a voice
all music is holy

John Otim
copyright 2012

From a distance there is …

lyrics by john otim
music by joyce akpan

In the first light of the dawn
when his eyes first open
Maria was there
yes she was there

in the first light of the dawn
in that first light of the dawn
Maria was still there
oh yes she was

the world was about Maria
the stars and the heavens
swirled around Maria
and the splendor made him blink

in the first light of the dawn
in that first light of the dawn
Maria was still there
oh yes she was

but the world had moved
and the stars and the heavens
were no longer there
 they were no longer there

in the first light of the dawn
in that first light of the dawn
Maria was still there
oh yes she was

but strange shadows
oh strange shadows
they made him blue

in the first light of the dawn
in that first light of the dawn
Maria was still there
oh yes she was there

click here to listen to the music 

copyright john otim

poetry by john otim

There was about the evening
something noblesse
the canopy was on fire
from cloud kissed hills
whispers of winds
leaden with fragrance

Shadows were celebrant
birds of the night
worked the rounds
dews began to fall
the hour drew near

folks whispered
reckless beyond measure
trouble was brewing

Sparrow birds were singing
dawn was breaking
down the lane
he slipped away
dawn was breaking
still breaking

“So on and on I go
the seconds tick the time out
there is so much left to know
and I’m on the road to find out”
 Cat Stevens

Swift as sparrows he flew
off after him they went
he the wind
they the shadows

So on and on he flew
of his quest
there were no limits
up and away he soared
on and on he flew

“I listen to the wind come howl
telling me I have to hurry
I listen to the robins song
I am on the road to find out”
– Cat Stevens

Up and away he speeds
his feet
bolts of lightning
his spirits
a roaring mission
to mars

Now his every step
they followed
malice alone drove them
on and on he flew

On and on he sped
the howling wind
gave him power
he listened to robins song
it gave him heart

On and on he flew
till at last
something inside him

Dawn was breaking
he seemed falter
something seem to give way
finally they catch up
with him

As they set upon him
their joy
knew no bounds
but the kid was tougher
than tough

His mouth ran
like the Nile
his words stung
like poisoned arrows
of Bushmen

They pinned him
to the ground
heaved him up against a wall
pinned him down

His mouth kept jetting
he knew neither master
nor conqueror
nothing could reach
the spirits that within him

I listen to the wind come howl
telling me I have to hurry
I listen to the robins song
telling me not to worry

While they still held him
he heard from a distance
rich melodies of New Africa
coming all the way
from the Cape

His face brightened
on his lips a smile
his eyes blazed
as though he saw
through them

His captors grew at first
they became fearful and confused
and could hold him no longer
dawn was still breaking

By the hallowed grounds
of the school house
where once caroused
heroes of uhuru
there under the spell
of the music of
the dawn bird

There under a canopy
still on fire
on a morning out
of Arabian Nights

He felt a presence
in the gentle
of leeward winds

Thoughts of
imminent departure
stayed with him
he heard a voice say
God bless Africa

Memories so strong
overcame him –
it was a cold windy night
the one
they called teacher
was leaving
they could not bear
the thought

Class Four waited
and watched silently
as Flight 274 lifted
rose and climbed
into the misty sky

Teacher was leaving
on a jet plane
dawn was breaking
we could not wait
to be with her again

The jet engine roared
and cruised
through silent night
we watch and followed
till we saw no more

We hear a voice –
I’m leaving on a jet plane
don’t know
when I’ll be back again
-our hearts melted
the night darkened

copyright john otim 2011

poetry by john otim

how the years have run
it seems but moments ago
a little girl that cried amd cried in the rain
victim of mindless people                                                        

and look today she gathers
her deep lush braids into a lock
a bride fit for a prince
how the years have run                      

how events have moved
yesterday by popular acclaim
a campus queen
bashful and free in the cool airs
of the plateau

and today look there she is
at the head of elite select space wizards
from around the world  

and now there they are
far beyond by the milky way
there herself shooting the lead rover
past clusters of burning stars

and on earth we watch and follow
the drama in space
dazzling pictorials
of worlds never imagined

How events run away
what more could there be
beyond distant fiery balls?
sail on silver bird

Sail on silver bird
sail on by … your time
has come to shine …

copyright john otim 2009
ahmadu bello university zaria


adventures of a young man
by john otim

Thoughts of Africa
stayed with him
throughout the long flight
to the heart
of the old empire

Up at those altitudes
between those clouds
so dense and white
he marveled at the length
and breadth
of the mighty continent

In a dreamland far away
he heard the pilot
Mount Kenya to the left
and he remembered reading
Jomo Kenyatta’s
Facing Mount Kenya

He thought
with a book like that
the old man deserved
the presidency
of his country

Soon the mountains
of Addis
and the Red Sea
were behind
how faithful
to the maps

Presently they entered
the desert
heat rose from the sands
and hit them
in the plane
how massive
the desert
that first sight
took his breath away

Old Davis poor fellow
struggled in class
sans internet
sans power point
to convey as well
he might
the sense of the octopus

Darkness was approaching
when they approached
the ancient land
of Akhenaton
and Queen Nefertiti

Now serene under
the cover of night
void of the turmoil
sweat and blood
it knew all these
long years

Presently they crossed
the Mediterranean
dark and sullen
in the night
filled with secrets
from time without end

On the other side
lay Europe
a glittering sea of light
a tapestry of gold
and silver
a crown of jewels

Was that the reason
they called Africa
the heart of darkness
so dazzling
in every way
thoughts of Africa

A voice on the intercom
the pilot announced
the approach
to the heart of Europe
the old
capital of the world

The airport was massive
a sea of white faces
and dark uniforms
silent as the night
work to be done

They traversed long passages
that move under you
that run with you

Finally out on streets
where once carouse
great statesmen of empire
where now youth

He drove through
the old capital
he saw buildings
old and moldy
the old palace
where still lived
the Monarch
was only a big house

The Monarch
living in this ordinary town
where beggars beg
and garbage
litter streets

The Monarch
who travels abroad
covered in pageantry
and splendor
Who dined and wined
with heroes of uhuru
and assorted
usurpers of power
of sate coffers
marauders of the land

On and on they drove
through streets crowded
with shoppers
pleasure seekers
till at last
they approached
the dream campus

The dream campus
lay miles away
tacked in groves
a wonderland
where past and present
come together
in a celebration
of harmony

Picture book edges of greens
lined the avenues
of learning
manicured loans
elegant structures
modern and classical
sprung like fairies
out of woodlands

Parklands and playfields
shrubs and flowers
water fountains
spirited youths
hurried professors
with camcorders

They drove slowly
through the fairyland
on and on he goes
the seconds tick the time out
and the thought
occurred to him

Here on this
dream campus
should abide the monarch
in the company
of these happy youth

“Young ones shouldn’t be afraid
young ones should be together
I love you and you love me
Oh my darling can’t you see
Young world shouldn’t be afraid”
Cliff Richard

Finally the car turned
and glided
onto the grounds
of a magnificent structure
glass and steel
laid in a garden

The superintendent
a dapper man in suit and tie
looked like he drank all
from the fountains
of knowledge
he took him
to his new quarters

Specious rooms
a striking view
of the famous river
he encountered
geography lessons
long ago

His spirits rose
in his eyes
a light shone
he was at peace
with the world
on his lips
a melody

“Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind”
Aretha Franklin

copyright john otim 2011

author note – john otim taught crative writint at ahmadu bello university, zaria, nigeria

poetry by john otim


Have you seen her

there by the market gate
there where children play
where beggars seek alms
where men relieve themselves

there where the swamp
and the stench
in the heat of noon
could overpower

there one cool evening
as the glory from the east
sprayed golden rays
and dazzled the world

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