Of God and “Hard questions that crack the teeth”: Five Nigerian Poets


Helon Habila

(for the unknown child)


They say souls of the dead

Sometimes turn into birds


In the still morning

Metal rings against stone and sand


The men in a semi-circle

Display minds in flux

There is no sadness here:


The morning offers only greenery

Rude petals distract the mind

With sudden beauty.


Petals that wither

Like a child’s body

Not having lived to sin

Not having sinned to die


Birds in bright feathers

Fan out behind bushes, fresh, like hidden fire

Roaring suddenly into flame

Into life, into maturity…..


They say the souls of the dead,

Small children, often persist as birds,

To strive further, not to return empty

To their maker.


Not having known sin and growth,

The doom, the antidote.




Tony Kan

A Prayer for a Good Death


Dear Lord,

I offer this prayer for a good death

May I never fall from a Molue on a Monday morning

May I never know the hard feel of asphalt’s bite

On bare skin

May the road and its ogres never bare their fangs

when I tread the pathways


Secrets have sprouted tendrils

And like the spider’s feet they spin

A web of fear around my mind

I stutter, I flutter, I flutter like a candle

In the cold embrace of the wind

I find empty solace in silence


There in the cloying warmth of the womb

The unborn child suckles silence

Weaving toneless ditties

From the sad monodies of nascent dreams


Why are we born?  Why do we die?

Hard questions that crack the teeth

Hard questions that eclipse answers

Drowning them in the penumbra of their beginnings


So I circle the pregnant gloom

I reach a febrile finger into its depths

I finger its rancid entrails

Exciting worms and maggots

I feel the osmosis, the kinesis

The end of life’s ultimate synthesis


So I offer this prayer, dear Lord,

On this morning of death and renewal

Having tasted joy and supped on tears

And having seen that man fall and die

I, who have known love and heartache

Sweet passion and its after-glow

I beg of thee, Sweet Lord,

May I not lose my head in the urgent dialogue of

tar and tyres.




Sunday Ayewanu

God’s Voice


The servant was startled

To see his master at the door,

Staring at him


What!  He thought aloud

I should be cleaning the rooms

And dusting the tables

I should be washing his clothes;

Those clothes, soiled

By the spoils of high society

I should…


The boy stopped his morning meditation

And put his bible aside


“where are your roots?”

The voice was calm,

Was clear enough


“The streets, my lord.  You picked me from the streets

As I walked through the valley of the shadow of death”

The servant answered tremulously


The lord said nothing, but rather

Cast a cold glance at the bible

Beside the poor boy’s pillow

“Who then is your God?”

The servant fell on his knees

Raising his hands as if in supplication


“You are my God;  for you provide me shelter

And give me my daily bread”.




Nike Adesuyi

The New Testament


I walk the coasts of Ibeju Lekki

White sands, a blue sea and a

Happy sun distil putrid visions


I run into the winds;

A kite buoyed on the wings of fun


I race the wind to an infinity of sands and shells

Until my feet are shocked by the magic of Mammon**:

Asphalt scarifies the polish of the sands like tribal marks


Beyond the billowing wrapper of the sea,

In places secret to the coastal eyes,

Principalities and powers are violating

Our maiden of mercies


In Ogoni** the fishes are fevered

From the typhoid of crude

Oil paints the sea black

And all the waters mourn.



** Mammon – wealth or greed as a deity

** Ogoni refers to Ogoniland in Nigeria,

where The Shell Oil Company vastly polluted the Niger River Delta.


Those Quarrelsome Nigerian Cousins_Christianity and Islam


Abubakar Othman

The Dual Call


Hayyal al salat, hayyal al salat

Hayyal al falah, hayyal al falah


Awake my soul

Hearken to this call

The first call of the five chores

When the dawn is falling down

Over the dull slumbering town

Awake my soul


Al salat hairun min al naum

Al salat hairun min al naum


But an incubus clad to my bosom

Weighs me down in the cozy embrace

Of another call

The intimate voice of her throbbing heart

Mixes with the distant voice of the minaret

In the sensuous ears of my soul

And I am lost in the dual call


Awake my soul

Awake from the cozy embrace of a siren

To the real call of the distant minaret

Awake my soul and say


Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar

La ilaha illallah,  Allahu akbar


_ _ _ _ _

Translation of the poet’s transliterated Arabic:

Hurry to prayer, hurry to prayer

Hurry to success – to salvation


Prayer is better than sleep

Prayer is better than sleep


God is most great, God is most great

There is no God but Allah, God is most great


This compilation © Nigerian poet and editor Toyin Adewale