“how can I / the epilogue of my own long torment / understand the prologue I dreamt you to be?” ~ Kori Awoonor, from “To Sika”

Kofi Awoonor AFP
Poet and Statesman, Kofi Awoonor (AFP)

Two for Tuesday: Kofi Awoonor, one of the Westgate Mall victims felled in the 9/22 attack in Nairobi, Kenya.

As I was reading stories about the attack on the Westgate Mall, I came across a name that seemed familiar, Awoonor. Turns out Kofi Awoonor, famed Ghanaian poet, was among the scores of people killed by Al-Shabab terrorists over the weekend; Awoonor was in town for a literary festival.

Al-Shabab (Arabic for “the youth”) is a Somalia-based terror group. The latest totals put the death toll at 68, with over 175 wounded.

I freely admit that my background in world literature is sorely lacking as I was schooled in literature at a time in which world literature seemed limited to a world inhabited mostly by Europeans, so in recent years I have tried to take in poets and writers of whom I knew very little.  Awoonor is one of those poets. I find it heartbreaking that in one of his last poems (below), Awoonor speaks of “bad men” who “interrupted our dance/with obscene songs and bad gestures.”

From The Wall Street Journal:

African poet Kofi Awoonor (1935-2013) was among those slain in a terrorist attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The African Poetry Book Fund is set to publish Awoonor’s latest collection, “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems” in 2014.

Across a New Dawn

Sometimes, we read the
lines in the green leaf
run our fingers over the
smooth of the precious wood
from our ancient trees;

Sometimes, even the sunset
puzzles, as we look
for the lines that propel the clouds,
the colour scheme
with the multiple designs
that the first artist put together

There is dancing in the streets again
the laughter of children rings
through the house
On the seaside, the ruins recent
from the latest storms
remind of ancestral wealth
pillaged purloined pawned
by an unthinking grandfather
who lived the life of a lord
and drove coming generations to
despair and ruin


But who says our time is up
that the box maker and the digger
are in conference
or that the preachers have aired their robes
and the choir and the drummers
are in rehearsal?

No; where the worm eats
a grain grows.
the consultant deities
have measured the time
with long winded
arguments of eternity

And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn


We are the celebrants
whose fields were
overrun by rogues
and other bad men who
interrupted our dance
with obscene songs and bad gestures

Someone said an ailing fish
swam up our lagoon
seeking a place to lay its load
in consonance with the Original Plan

Master, if you can be the oarsman
for our boat
please do it, do it.
I asked you before
once upon a shore
at home, where the
seafront has narrowed
to the brief space of childhood

We welcome the travelers
come home on the new boat
fresh from the upright tree

From Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” selected by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Nebraska Press and the African Poetry Book Fund, 2014


We Have Found a New Land

The smart professionals in three piece
Sweating away their humanity in dribblets
And wiping the blood from their brow

We have found a new land
This side of eternity
Where our blackness does not matter
And our songs are dying on our lips.
Standing at hell-gate you those who seek admission
Still the familiar faces that watched and gave you up
As the one who had let the side down,
“Come on, old boy, you cannot dress like that”
And tears well in my eyes for them
Those who want to be seen in the best company
Have abjured the magic of being themselves
And In the new land we have found
The water is drying from the towel
Our songs are dead and we sell then dead to the other side
Reaching for the Stars we stop at the house of the Moon
And pause to relearn the wisdom of our fathers.