Lament of the Silent Sisters


For Chris Okigbo, the well-known poet, killed in 1967 in the Nigerian civil war.

That night he came home, he came unto me
at the cold hour of the night
Smelling of corn wine in the dawn dew.
He stretched his hand and covered my forehead.
There was a moon beam sparking rays in particles.
The drummer boys had got themselves a goat.
The din was high in the wail of the harvest moon.
The flood was up gurgling through the fields
Birth waters swimming in floods of new blood.
He whispered my name in far echo
Sky-wailing into a million sounds
across my shores. His voice still bore
the sadness of the wanderer
To wail and die in a soft lonely echo
That echo I heard long ago
In the fall of night over my river,
In the distant rustle of reeds
At growth in the strength of my river.
Once upon an evening I heard it
Strung clear as the gong of the drummer boys
Bright burnished like the glint edge of
the paschal knife, ready anxious to cut
My cords and enter into my fields.
I was still a dream then
Carried by the flimsy whiffs
Of sweet scents borne aloft on the vision
Of my coming flood
That will bear me slowly and gently
Into his world of smiles and smells.
He was not very gentle with me
But I did not complain. The thrust
was hard and angry, severing the tiny cord
Shattering the closed gates of raffia
Gathering at its eye the reeds to feed my fishes.
My flood had not risen.

The canoe carried on the strength
Of his man rowed steep down my river
into a tumultuous eternity
Of green hills and mountains
That reeled and rolled to the river shore
To clasp and bear me away.

Then the floodgates opened
for justice to cleanse to purify
My evening of awakening
In the turbulence of his triumph
Into the bright evening of my rebirth.
The birth was tedious
The pangs were bitter
Into the bright evening I rushed
Crying I have found him I have found him.
He stood there rustling in the wind
The desire to go was written large upon his forehead.
I was not ready for his coming
I was not ready for his loneliness,
for his sad solitude against the rustling wind.
I was not ready for his entrance
Into my fields and shores of my river.
The entrance of raffia was closed
closed against his lonely solitude.

He stood beneath my entrance
In his approach I knew the steps he took
Like the departing Lazarus
Marching toward his grave.
I was not ready.
The flood was gurgling at his estuary
swimming within me birth waters
warmed by his coming. He was silent
mute against the rushing of the wind
to cry and die for his homeland.
My flood had not risen then.
Across my vastness he marched into the wind
his arms folded upon his chest,
his eyes searching for the gates
that will open his amulets
to snatch and wear his talisman of hope.
He marched into the wind
howling through door posts
to catch the boatman at the dawn point.
to ferry him across my river.
But I was not ready.

My hands stretched to cover his
in the darkness, to cover his eyes
in the agony of his solitude
to call him names I knew
to put the dressing from my womb
upon his cudgel scars,
to hold his hand in the clasp of nightfall.
He was mute; the wind had stopped rustling
He was erect like the totem pole of his household
He burned and blazed for an ending
Then I was ready. As he pierced my agony
with his cry, my river burst into flood.
My shores reeled and rolled
to the world's end, where they say
at the world's end the graves are green.

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