Times and Seasons and Vanity upon Vanity

I didn’t know I could stop and trace the roads

of my palm the way my baby does, and tell

myself that moving fast isn’t everything, that other folks had

walked this path, that Earth isn’t mine alone, that am

not as great as I assumed, that it doesn’t pay

to eat with both hands like crabs, that I’m vulnerable.

 

I didn’t know I could live without sports and pop

myths, the lure of sex and the wild, the fantasy

of Hollywood and the charm of yachts. I didn’t know.

Please, tell me again: why do you harm your neighbor

for the glory you met and will leave behind tomorrow?

 

I’m home now—the pandemic struck too fast for me

to shield myself as I always do when others mourn

the loss of the things they love. I’m quarantined from

all the things I bleached the ozone with my chimneys.

 

Reckon, there’s a time for everything: a time for pollution

and a time we’re chained from messing as we pleased,

a time to worship wealth and a time to croak

 

health is greater, a time for folly and a time

for duty, a time to crave the grandeur of greed

 

and a time to love everyone and everything as yourself.

 

—July 5, 2020

Unnatural Selection

You must know Darwin—not any darwin

in forums with telescopes on his eyes

always singing the beard like a puppet,

or one having his tag by accident;

I really mean the God of chance—

he respected me, no, he deified me

not because I once mirrored his incubation

when we sat alone on HMS Beagle,

but that I surpassed him in jest—

 

this, too, he dismissed when I reviewed

the Origin long before it absorbed us.

I had asked as throes gripped him,

what he would be after the time—

My friend, he called, there is no death

but transmutation, and we laughed at sophistry.

So, Darwin never died as you presume,

and not only he, but every extinct thing:

 

do not compose elegies for Tiktaalik roseae,

dinosaurs, Raphus cucullatus and golden toads

or remind me of Suyá and Ostrogoth,

St. Helena olives and Sri Lanka legumes—

they have, indeed, been transformed—I know

he would agree wherever whatever he is,

that the Holocene extinction is natural selection.

 

He knew I detest praising friends privately,

I sing them loud as a thrush

I laud public approval, which he adored,

and I told him in undressed words

that I did not share his lust

and how he swore in the name

 

of greed and in its night-birthed misnomers

we give all the things that limp

backwards into the beautiful door of love;

the stubble smiled and laughed at me,

yet he did not stir my head

 

to make differently how we should live.

I never meant, friend, to distract you,

to cut new pathways in your mind

to discredit or credit the new whiskers,

 

and believe me, I wonder every day

as I walk across shacks and skyscrapers

how many of us daily go extinct

 

by our fatal greed and inverse love

that wet the long lungs of death—

 

and which of us, Malthus, is next?

Niger Delta Blues

You don’t know what it means to live unknown,

to smile in the market square as a stranger

haughtily spills your mother’s name on a pig’s head

and you become a boil on Miss World’s lips.

This is how a mangrove lives without prop roots:

 

a branch is starved until its pregnant leaves become

ghosts of IDPs walking backwards to Oloibiri Well 1.

def.: Oloibiri is the longing of a surrogate mum

e.g.: She died birthing crude oil for the outsiders.

 

You don’t know how it feels when a foe

owns your child and you bow calling him, Lord,

while your neighbours cut your neck with snail shells;

 

you can’t protest because your life’s a nursery rhyme

of CH4 NOx VOCs SO2 CO2 PAHs PCBs HFCs

 

and the other poisons that eat me away daily.

Papa’s Scary Talk About COVID-19 and Pollution

Again, Papa drags the TV remote from my little girl,

his grimace listing all the ills of our nowadays children—

true, such headiness didn’t exist even in my own time;

and once they start the territorial dance of Agama agama

I quickly zip my lips and run into the kitchen

before his festering eyes ask how she became a dictator.

 

Mia’s a swashbuckler—I feign cackles and cheer her CBeebies.

I don’t know why Papa likes cold wars. Maybe, he

envies her for having all the things he only read

about in his own childhood. But I don’t bother him

about the things he couldn’t give me in my childhood.

 

Papa pressed the remote the way Mia traps roaches. CNN.

COVID-19 has hit world trade. Nigeria would learn to drink

her crude oil, to stuff her lungs with greenhouse gases/

It’s a beautiful thing, you know, Papa announces. I shriek.

 

But people are dying, I say. He shakes his head

like a mantis. There’s less pollution now, you know. Silence.

Good walks with evil—and that’s a fact, you know.

 

I nod and Papa plays on: Our globetrotting politicians being

home with us is wonderful, you know. Silence. Think, son.

 

Papa talks the way Mama talked the night she died.

 

—April 1, 2020