by Larry Onokpite

I caught myself snoring
I cursed myself humming
Why didn’t I know this
I never snored since womb-kiss

I have answers
I hope you have questions
They say you never know you snore
Ugh! I caught myself

Just at the intersection
That holy unasked dot
That moment pleading extension
The kiss of sleep and consciousness

Power of the middle
Kingdom of virtues
Haven of growths
Sanctuary of shrill vista

Nothing too latent to be known
Slowly snoop, it will be revealed
Potentials are revealed
Skills are unveiled

The head of my grandpa
The grey hair dotting the black
I keep it black
By ‘blacking’ my black hands

Residual fruit of waste
Condemned excelling of finish
Glorified by-product of process
I never thought of it

I went to the charcoal
Lying silent and calm
Black does not depress
Black is full of power, silent and voice

Wastes imprison beauty
Light a light near your heart
With my tiny fingers filled with black
Grey hair disappeared; beauty refurbished

I caught myself snoring
I caught myself in wastes
I caught myself ululating
I caught myself with prospects.

Larry Onokpite is from Delta State, Nigeria. He considers reading and writing as great forms of spirituality. Larry previously published A Collection of Mantras, on Afreecan Read.

To want to die

by Chisom Okafor

is to let your feet stiffen into a pillar of salt,
to let them be torn apart, in
a room full of dehydrated men, pilgrims
advancing by faith, each seeking your temple key
each seeking kind admittance
each supplicant crooning passwords. Calling out.
Come, salt of the earth.
Open, sesame.

To want to run away from your own skin
is to let your body become a community of stories
your eyes, an over-flooded island
your mouth, the gates of a graveyard
your nose, a flute, piping soulful tones, dirge after dirge.
Your tongue, a beggar-girl’s bowl, forbidden
to reveal its face, overclouded by acne.
Your skin- a pleasant ripeness-
a burnt offering for men.
You want to cross those aching legs
you long for a brassier, but your nipples burn with sucking.

At a high school in the far North, a debate instructor points a chalk to
inscriptions on a blackboard and says,
you’ve got vagina, convince men,
get the things you want with the platinum tucked
within the folds of your other lips,
with the pearl inserted at the meetings of your thighs.

Which means to die is to want to soften your heart into
splattering under intense illumination.
Which means to die is to be birthed
with a stone stuck in your pudenda,
which means to want to down an overdose of pills is to
metamorphose into a dune
(or a bride awaiting child-marriage)
and lose yourself
to the sand storm, let it dictate your fortunes
let a windstorm whisper to your ear:
C’est fini! C’est fini!

Chisom Okafor studied Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in various literary outlets. Read Chisom’s previous poem on Afreecan Read, My Sister’s Prayer

To My Three Star

(Dedicated to my 3 sisters whom I lost within 6year, two died of cancer)

by Nyazabe Dantala Ali

Like the stars afar, tiny yet mighty,
You fell upon the earth brightly,
Live a fortune in Ali’s family
As love bound our bones,
You were never alone.

When the journey began,
Like a noble toodle,
Sauntering on the tail of time,
Waged by travails of life
Apt on the pace, you prevailed.
The lionness of our family,
You stood tall like mahogany
Perhaps time could toil,
But never will be my joy.

Oh Esther!
I couldn’t lose sight of the agony,
The scarlet and swollen nipples,
Spare me those memories,
Perhaps those honourable scenes
When with the balm on my palms,
I massage your swollen foots;
Now like the smoke Puff’s,
You disappeared
between the hyphen of despair.

Though we throw salutes,
To your souls sanguine,
Gone in June
What has the omen with you?
Time could have tarry to tell
Our voices aren’t mute.

Without seizing Esther,
It could have settled at Julianna,
And now Sister Gloria.

Oh! Triple stars,
Tell cancer
Your memories aren’t cancelled,
Tell that merchant of agony
Chasing our glorious stories,
Changing them to memories,
Stealing souls from families,
That it will soon be a story.

Battling against fate
In such malignant state;
If cancer be a ghoul,
Chase his dismal face,
Down your resting place,
Fighting your best
We shall tarry here for the rest
Till we destroy the omen
To save more men.

Nyazabe Dantala Ali hails from Kaduna state Nigeria, from the Gbagyi ethnic group of Abuja, Niger, Nassarawa, and Kaduna state. He is a
graduate of Mass Communication from Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic Zaria, Kaduna state. A multi dimensional artist with the DNA of Art….his email is nyazaali@gmail.com. Ali uses his poem to campaign against cancer, so join his campaign by sharing.

“Mad” people in a mad country

Part ii: Whirlwinds and Flies on a Dunghill

by Elisha Gwanzwang Godswill
if you missed part one, Gathering Firewood”, you can read it here

I think you remember what I yarn last time…. that ‘na everyting for Naija go drive you mad’ and that ‘Madness is a foreign country’?  I think you also remember the shocking statistics of the Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital? These gut-wrenching stats vex me and like Dante (reading the words on the gate of hell) their ‘meaning is dire to me’. But unlike Dante, I don’t have Virgil to guide me in this foreign land of ‘various tongues, horrible languages, outcries of woe, accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse, with hands together smote that swell’d the sounds, made up a tumult, that forever whirls round through that air with solid darkness stain’d, like to the sand that in the whirlwind flies’.

Sweeping Ones Home Clean

There is an old Africa proverb that goes ‘it better to sweep your home clean than sweep the streets’.  I think a modern equivalent would be ‘charity begins at home’ or ‘as the family goes, so goes the world’. The family system is the chief and sole supplier of the mentally disordered to the world. Therefore, it is wise for us to pay attention to our setups and members of our family.

If a person has a mental health disorder, it is very likely that the manifestations would be felt at home first.  And It is also the family that can come to his aid as with the case of the souls in purgatory as Catholic theology teaches.  Like the wretched souls that Dante hears wailing,  our family members experiencing mental health challenges are powerless to help themselves due to their state of mind.

My dear uncle Emma now roams around the streets of Zango-Kataf in his state of nature. I remember him as a devoted Catholic, hardworking and prayerful. As time went on, we noticed some changes in him. All of a sudden, he took to the consistent praying of the rosary and lectio divina like a Catholic monk. As time went on, he became somewhat aggressive and violent. It was in his violent mood of his unstable mind that he attempted to machette my late father. Fortunately, my father was able to dodge from the aggression, overpower him and snatched away the arm from him.

Not quite long after this incident, Emmanuel was returned to the village where he came from.  His condition, I learnt, deteriorated while in the village. I strongly feel now, that had it been we took the right measure as a family by not leaving him alone to himself and his creator, by taking him to Barnawa (Neuropsychiatric Federal Hospital, Kaduna) he would not have been the being he is today. Worse, I do not know the whereabouts of his wife and child today.

Stitching the Social Fabric

We live in a society that is flooded with misconceptions about mental illnesses. One of such misconceptions is that mental illnesses are spiritually induced, this might be true to an extent and reasonable to the average African who believes that to every physical occurrence there is a spiritual force behind it. Perhaps, this is why we prefer to rush our relatives to prayer houses – Traditional, Islamic, and Christian – on discovery of any questionable behaviour that is against the social standard.

There is a prevalent ideology among Nigerians that psychiatric care is expensive (which may be true). We also believe erroneously that if you are not sleeping in dunghills and going about without cloths, nothing is wrong with you, with this attitude of ours we allow our brethren with mild mental issues that could be easily curtailed to worsen.

It therefore comes to me as no surprise when I overheard my classmates classify a lady that stands alone somewhere near the new garage that leads to my university campus to beg for alms as being normal just because the demarking appearance are yet to manifest all over her. In my view, she’s far from being normal. I do not think an able-bodied person in her normal senses would chose not to work but to live on the Naira notes she gets from generous Nigerians from begging with her then infant child, without giving a thought to the sad event of her child falling off her body and being crushed by a vehicle. We have this category of people everywhere in Nigeria.

Our scepticism about a person’s mental health should not deter us from giving attention to their mental and psychological state of mind and lending a helping hand to them. We should endeavour to cultivate a culture of awareness to little details in our lives and that of our neighbours. It is a trite saying that, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’.

Prayers Don’t Gather Firewood

In Nigeria, I have too often seen religion being employed negatively or abused to its own detriment. The way we practice religion in this country leaves a lot to be desired. We fight and destroy lives and properties, nearly on a daily basis, in the name of God. Others want to forgo all ownership and responsibility, in hope that God will do it for them.

In the case of the mentally disordered person, we attach our spiritual sentiments to their problems and instead of taking those affected by mental illnesses to the appropriate place (psychiatric hospitals), we rush them to prayer houses – a classic example of placing round pegs in square holes. I believe in the efficacy of prayer and rarely go a day without communing with God by means of prayer. However, when it comes to allowing our God to do everything for us, I am totally opposed to it. If we believe that God has fashioned every person with a thinking faculty and bodily abilities to do things for ourselves, then that’s exactly what we should do when it is possible.

Behind my dormitory at school, is the Dynamic Apostolic Church. Without them singing, dancing, preaching praying, one could easily mistake them for a traditional healing centre. Here, people with all kinds of diseases are being attended to. I know of two mentally disordered people who lived in the church for over a couple of years. When the administrator of the church felt their cases were beyond his power, and perhaps beyond the power of his God, they were discharged and now worse off. Ade Bendel and Alaba are their names. The last time I sighted Alaba, he was hurrying towards Ijebu-Oru from Ago-iwoye – all in the Ijebu North Local Government area of Ogun state, without any cloth to cover his nakedness. I think it is high time Nigerians stopped hunting for penguins in the Sahara.

A Deadbeat Government

Euphemistically, people experiencing mental illness in Nigeria are being referred to as ‘government pikin’. The term suggests that they are under the care of the government. In reality, the case is exactly the opposite. For if the government really cared about them, how come they are homed by the streets like proper vagabonds? How is it that we have just a single neuropsychiatric hospital in Kaduna? How come they have not taken it upon themselves to sensitise us on the fact that mental illnesses are not spiritual? How come psychiatric health care is beyond the reach of the average Nigerian?

Often times, I wonder if our mentally inadequate brethren are not Nigerians. Often times, I wonder if they are in any way deserving the kind of life they are getting. I cannot prevent myself from calling the sanity of all those in the echelons of power into question. I cannot understand why any sane person would take an oath to help contribute to progress of his country, but instead of doing so, he adds to the problems by ignoring real problems and carting away the wealth.

It is pertinent to state, that the bulk of psychiatric service is provided by the eight regional psychiatric hospitals and the departments of psychiatry in twelve medical schools[i]. From my observation, government seems to worry less on the issue of mental health, perhaps because they feel it is not as pressing as security, food production, battling corruption to mention but a few. This may be true in some essence, but we cannot neglect the fact that one problem leads to the other. Further, it is not ideal to overlook some sectors of our national life even if the same amount of attention would not be paid to them.

Market of Betrayals

So many times, when things are not going well in a country we point accusing fingers at those at the helms of affairs in the state, well, this is not out of place because they formulate policies and are saddled with the task of implementation. I strongly feel that we have our own share of the blame to burden. We talk as if we are governed by people from another planet who have nothing to do with us. We are the government. We present ourselves to contest for elected positions. We vote those who represent us in the running of the state.

We are either directly or indirectly connected to governance. For those that are politically nonpartisan, we have relations in power. Similarly, the religionists that capitalise on our gullibility to make us do absurd things are products of the family. Without the family, there will be no society; this goes to show that we are the principal actors in orchestrating our problems- mental problems inclusive. In one way or the other we are contributing to the alarming number of mad people in Nigeria. We do not care a bit about our welfare. Some of us engage ourselves in acts capable of impeding the smooth running of our brain. We deceive ourselves on solutions to problems of mental health. We do not provide our ailing people with the needed facilities and conditions to return to sanity. In brief, we are the source of our own problems. We are the building blocks of our families, our congregations and religious institutions, we form the society and we are the basis of our government. We are all at fault as well. We need to admit this and take responsibility ourselves.

An aspect where the four factors (family, society, religion and government) have combined to a devastating effect to mete out what I perceive as unmerited wickedness on the mentally challenged is in the shameful act of sexually abusing them. Some highly irresponsible members of our family and society do sneak out under the cover of night from the warmth and love of their spouses to the slums and dunghills to see their mistresses and fancy men. Some of the results we see in the pregnancies they carry about.

In Literature that is generally accepted as the mirror of society, Nigerian dramatist, Niyi Adebanjo in his ‘A Market of Betrayals and a Monologue on a Dunghill’ captured this barbaric act aptly. Inquire from the perpetrators of this beastly act, you will get to hear that a religious minister ordered them to do so in order to acquire wealth or in the case of politicians vying for and those in power to gain it or remain in power. Is this true? Well, that is for the experts in that field to tell us. To classify the four factors into one I will say it is Man. The four factors are human. This is a case of man-killing-man.

As a family, society, people of God and countrymen, we need to go back to the drawing board to think, devise and implement ways of ameliorating the pangs of the tragic conditions of the mentally disordered person. As a matter of fact, we are all praying not to be in their state but if truth must be told, we must realise that we could be in their shoes tomorrow. After all, there is only a thing line severing sanity from insanity.

Elisha Gwanzwang Godswill is a Nigerian obsessed with knowledge and has a wide variety of academic interests. He hopes to research Conflicts, especially as it relates to Africa

 

This Week in Literature: Top 10 in line for literary award

The Sunday Times Literary Awards (STLA) in association with Porcupine Ridge, has announced its finalist for this year. The winners (who will each receive R100 000) will be announced on June 24.

The five novels short-listed for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize are:

The Printmaker by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Umuzi)

Period Pain by Kopano Matlwa (Jacana Media)

Little Suns by Zakes Mda (Umuzi)

The Woman Next Door by Yewanda Omotoso (Chatto&Windus/PRH)

The Safest Place by Mark Winkler (Umuzi).

The five books short-listed for the Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction are:

Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard: Life among the stowaways by Sean Christie (Jonathn Ball Publishers)

Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the search for human Origins by Christa Kuljian (Jacana Media)

Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of the Marikana Massacre by Greg Marinovich (Penguin Books)

My Own Liberator by Dikgang Moseneke (Picador Africa)

Letters of Stone: From Nazi Germany to South Africa by Steven Robins (penguin Books)

 

Fall to Pieces

By Samson Moyo

In silent tears I heard her heart breathe,
Heart beat to let her heart speak,
Deep,
We drowned in the poetry of shadows,
Dark notes dancing as truth cords,
So truth notes what lies wrote,
A love note,
Love like what the world holds,
Bleeding dry to a death rest,

Innocent sheets that stain life,
Like Family trees rooted in these,

And so her heart bleeds,

To hide the noise like when silent sleeps,
Night dreams so she escapes for the time being,
To escape what is and could have been,
So she falls in deaths hug, she sleeps,

Soundly it seems though she bleeds, within,

Tastes comforts at a lies expense,
So she falls in deaths hug,
Deaths touch she interprets as Lifes charm,

Touch innocence before the iris wakes,
Before the nation knows and drown her hearts sounds,

And so her heart bleeds,

I hear her,

Feel her as I slip to grip hold her,
So I sleep to dream hold her,
And pray us past these years.

Samson Mandhla Moyo, a Student at the University of Livingstonia Malawi. Visit Samson’s blog for more. Also read Naked Parables by Moyo on Afreecan Read.

The Breadwinner

(For Ngcimezi)

By Zondiwe Mbano

On Juma, Friday, the day of worship
The muezzin calls from the minaret.

After worship, the faithful extend alms
To the poor: a pile of coins to pick from.

Shop after shop, barefoot, panting in the heat
Of October, for the baby on her back is heavy.

The baby strapped, except for withered legs,
Has heavy pectorals; and fully bearded, he

Booms to her ears: how she must walk,
Where she must go, what she must buy…

Now the sun points home, she adjusts him
And straps the day’s buy within his reach

For his restless hands solace themselves
Anywhere, anytime, within their locus.

Now trudging home, stops to greet someone
(For even a donkey acknowledges a friend):

A heavy slap from the right hand, she sees
Stars, totters; then the command: Forward!

She moves: slaps are a tonic for the family
And a man’s love is wrapped in jealousy.

But it was only Nagama, she later explains;
And the voice: What about that man with her?

Romantic exchanges to entertain themselves
For the long walk to their children, waiting.

The author, Bruce Zondiwe Mbano is a lecturer in the Department of Language and Communication Skills at Chancellor College. He has authored short-stories, plays and poems, some of which have been published in The Fate of Vultures(BBC prize-winning poetry), Heinneman and The Haunting Winds(published by Dzuka). His poem The Viphya won second prize in the 2000 Peer Gynt Literally Award. Mbano’s previous poems on Afreecan Read include Eyes of Age and Road to Emmaus.

The Old Truth

by Iliya Kambai Dennis

Why should the truth be construed
When the truth is already true?
I’ve traveled high and low,
I can’t recall the moon
Explaining why she appears only at night.

Why should the truth be construed
When the truth is already true?
If lilies could speak, I’m sure,
They would not explain why
They are lucidly pure.

Why should the truth be construed
When the truth is already true?
Can’t imagine the Trinity so impeccable,
Explaining their sublime mystery
To a cruel world filled with misery.

The truth can’t be construed,
Because she is already true.
The judge can sit on it
Like we sit on our thoughts.

If the truth is not defiled,
Lies will not fill this file,
Politics will be more mirific,

The air will be more pacific,
B’cos the truth is still
The old truth.

Iliya Kambai Dennis hails from Kaduna state, Nigeria. He is a physics student at the Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto,Nigeria. He loves writing, especially poetry. Click here for his previous poem on Afreecan Read

My sister’s prayers

(after Derek Walcott’s ‘Love After Love’)

by Chisom Okafor

I sometimes walk with Halima to a building where her pelvis is a bow
and her legs draw whirlwind-circles on the roofing.
I point out how badly her track suit needs stitching
she smiles, pretends not to hear

like when she prays
and her words come differently,
whispering to her beads at sunrise
then counting off,
on her fingers, reciting from her ‘Resolutions List’.
Insha Allah….

She would not face Mecca
her cheating lover was there, at Jamarat 

instead, she says, mould your faith into a mackerel,
let it set sail, deep into little waters,
re-make faith from minuscule details
and that’s to say,
send what remains of your heart, like scaffolding to the heavens
shrapnel after shrapnel, slowly-
mating snails don’t hasten.

He thinks you’re a tumor, you send painful
spams down his testicles,
he calls you cancer, painful from over-growth, but
you build your faith from him, from those.
A groan. A sigh. A twitch of eyelids.
A wave of the hand.
Make music with the strings on his tongue.
When they cluck at you, recite a line (or two) from Beethoven
or Johnny Cash, when you have too much black.
You are a sunflower bursting buds.
You have agency, too.
A wellspring, well-hidden from sight.

Chisom Okafor studied Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in various literary outlets.

The Awakening

Joe took another look at the crumpled paper in his hand, reviewing the instructions he got from the satanic website. He had rehearsed all the instructions as any mistake could be the end of his life or worse.

What could be worse than death? He thought to himself.

“Four red candles.” He read, as he glanced over to the candles placed carefully on the floor. Then marked them off the list.  So it was detailed on the website.

“A standing mirror, salt and chalk.” Heaving out a sigh of relief that everything was complete. As long as he had the salt and red candles, he’d be safe.

“Find a place of religious significance. Any place with faith symbolism would be ideal for the ritual.” He was going to use his room, where his scream could he heard if things go south. But that would be against the rules. So he chose St. John’s cathedral instead. A cathedral where he was dedicated, the cathedral ha now become a relic as its walls were riddled with dirt and age. He found the isolation convenient for his nocturnal task.

Arranging the four candles in a perfect square just as instructed, with the crisp white chalk line which connected them and placed the mirror inside the summoning area. His hands were shaking, making it hard for him to hold onto the paper containing the instructions very well. A nervous swell of energy erupted in his chest. He had memorized the rituals, studied and done his research. Now was no time for second thoughts.

“If you successfully complete the ritual, He will grant you one request, any of your heart desires. Choose wisely!”

Joe smiled to himself, he sprayed salt around the summoning area as a barrier. Creating a non-disjointed circle. The reward of this ritual surmounted all doubts. He crumbled the paper into his pocket, reviewing the instructions would only deepens his anxiety. He sat waiting, as he took another look at his watch.

11:50pm; Few minutes more so he could begin.

“The ritual must be done at precisely midnight. Too early or too late wouldn’t count.”

The wind rumbled outside, disturbing and quaking the doors of the chapel while unsettling the window curtains. He repeated the rules in his head to reassure himself. Another look at his watch, it was 11:58pm.

Joe knelt down beside the candles and lit them, they flickered and snapped in the breeze but remained strong. With deep breath, he grabbed the knife and drew it slowly across his palm just like in the movies. Only it seemed to hurt more than the actors let on.

“Let a few drops fall inside the summoning area, then summon him.”

“I summon you here with this dedication. Show yourself!” With those last words, he let more blood drop. Unlike in the practice session, the blood flowed and formed a tiny pool that defied the laws of gravity as it bubbled before his eyes. He shook off the fear building in him, the ritual must continue.

“Show yourself!!” Barely were the words out of his mouth, a dark shadowy face appeared on the mirror; grinning widely. The face was hard to discern but it was dark and scary. Riddled with scars and fresh flesh wounds that still seeped blood. Joe felt a cold pit of fear settle solidly in his stomach.

“Who summoned me?” Came the deep, gravely sinister voice.  It didn’t come from the beast’s lips, but from the air around Joe. The whole building vibrated, or just his legs did.

“First, Never speak your name. Else he will use it to control you. He will own your soul for ever.” The warnings replayed in his head. Joe’s mouth dried at the thought of how easy it was to have made such a mistake. It scared him.

“You have been summoned, and I will instruct you. Speak your name.”

“Who are you to think you can order me, mortal?” The words came out bone aching, vibrating through Joe’s body.

“Do not answer his questions, They are all a trick to capture you in his games and unending web.”

“Speak your name!” Joe gritted through his teeth.

The demon stretched his hand, stabbing through the surface of the mirror and entering this world. His cruel claws shone in the candle light. The smell of rot and decay followed quickly after, threatening to make Joe throw up. Joe checked the summoning area to ensure the barrier was still intact, and it was; New waves of courage entered him.

“He will try to intimidate you and scare you, but as long as the barriers are intact he will not be able to touch or harm you. Adhere to the guidelines for your safety. Believe nothing he says, he exists only to lie!”

He would be fine. The barriers were all intact. The red candles still lit, the salt marks still un-jointed.

“I have summoned you, and you will obey my commands. Remain within the summoning area. I command you!”

“Really?” Asked the beast mockingly, chuckles emerged as he pulled himself slowly through the mirror and into reality.

“Remain within the summoning area. Speak your name, I order you.” Joe forced his last bolt of courage into his voice but it made the demon laugh all the louder. Now standing at his full height, the beast looked down on the pale figure before him.

“You can call me Joe.” Joe froze as he heard his own voice through the air. His mouth fell as his eyes widened.

“You have meddled with something you do not understand.” The voice again deep and roaring, but now mimicked disappointment.

“B-But I never told you my name.” Joe stammered, his fear blurred his senses.

A roar of laughter filled the air. “You think I need you to tell me your name?”

Casually, the demon stretched, muscles and joints popped and cracked like it had been centuries since he last moved them. Joe began shifting backward, and scampering in fear. The candles slowly snuffed themselves out.

“But,” Joe gasped as his hand scrambled for anything that would aid him in survival, “But I followed all the instructions!”

The creature paused to survey the assembled items; The chalk square, the candle arrangement, salt and mirror he just stepped out from.

“You certainly did.” His arm slot forward and took a trembling Joe off the ground, slowly raised him till he met his eye level.

“Who do you think wrote the ritual in the first place?”

Blessed Abraham is a budding writer, an Electrical Engineering student from Akwa Ibom state. Loves movies and having intriguing conversations. You could reach him and read more of his short stories on his Facebook wall: facebook.com/edidiong.inemesit.7