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Emergency Kit

When I find myself among a laughing tribe,
I know they hide something from me;
I conjure up a laughter box whose button I press
to outlaugh them all. As long as they hear their music,
they leave me free; I don’t want to surrender all I have.
I am a moving stump in the forest of men
and if I stray into a towering company, those
more than a kilometre from the undergrowth,
I release stilts from my soles; I don’t want to be
looked down upon by the very top ones.
I collapse the long legs when I step into where
giants are the required offerings of the gods of the race.
I have a lifesaver installed in my body
just in case I am knocked into some deep river;
unless I come out alive, I will be declared evil—
who ever wants his adversary to have the last word on him?
So when a hunter stalks me to fill his bag,
I call on my snake from nowhere to bite him.
Folks, let’s drink ourselves to death in the party
as long as we wear sponges in the tongue;
let’s stay awake in our unending dream so that nobody
will take us for gone and cheat us out of our lives.

–Tanure Ojaide

Another poem discovered in England, Emergency Kit is written by a Nigerian poet and scholar. Like Fleur Adcock’s A Surprise in the Peninsula, I have read this over and over again. While Adcock’s poem plummets down my deep inner path to mystery and metaphor, this one heads straight to my center of rugged, bare bones resourcefulness, where survival is core.