“Augusta’s Poodle” – Ogaga Ifowodo

Five more excerpts from the forthcoming Augusta’s Poodle (Poems of Childhood) by Ogaga Ifowodo


Suddenly, the wizened old poet spoke

and it was as if he had fired a pistol,

the dog yelped and ran round his master’s legs

then crouched in the corner with old books. 

A hole on the floor where it had been turned 

dark, a blob of dogblood. “You’ve killed 

the wretched thing,” I said. “Not at all,” he said. 

“I’m as precise with my shot as with my words.”

His voice came over the jubilant cries

on the television of politicians

after results of a ritual vote, 

blood browning on broken ballot boxes.

The bullet-shaved white hair of the dog,

same white as the old poet’s haloed head,

curled into a neat knot on the floor

and then he said something about eggs

keened, conned or cornered. 

I was speechless.

I had been summoned from sleep or nightmare

in the living shade of a dead master,

the air and the walls still trembling

with the elemental force of his puzzling words,

with the mystery of his still unspoken words.



Dust on corn leaves, but they had browned

under the relentless sun. The coming rains

will rot their roots and ungathered cobs

but when we pass the forlorn acres, we will return

to the memory of tassels frothful with joy

in green fields swept clean by wandering winds.

After the field of corn and yam, harvested 

and lying fallow to renew the soil

with dead leaves, earthworms’ burrowings

and the labours of dungbeetles, comes the primal

forest of Okpesia, dwelling of the Great Gorillas.

Its trees of the beginning, primordial barks

hoarding the custodial magic that flows

up to branches interlaced above your head

and stretched to every corner of the world.

Okpesia beckoned with more than the pure oxygen

of its filtered air, the pure waters clean

and black with the mysteries of equatorial

origins: the birds’ cantatas petrified

the forest anew and the stillness of all

but avian melodies, the murmured harmonies

of brooks over fallen leaves, leads you into dream:

the days can cease their intolerable noise

the sky can be cleansed of its dust and poisons

we shall all be happy in the return to earth.



The slowly fading circle of the sun

the slowly closing lids of eyes dampened

by the searing memory of inhuman grief.

A sudden clattering and the downpour,

liquid rods of chastening water, arrows

of heaven to perforate the January-crusted

earth. The frightful gutturals of God 

directing the ritual of regeneration 

remind me of the first poetry, incom-

prehensible syllables that never failed

to wrack and rip my pounding heart,

send me scurrying to my mother’s legs.

God crying out his mighty eyes, threatening

to drown the world again, but this sullen noon

will not dampen the radiance of your eyes!

Landscapes planted in flood plains, forever

freshened by the rain. To look up after 

the storm, becalmed by the petrichor 

from wood and grass, is to succumb 

to your native sky! The spellbound past grips 

you with both arms round the waist and won’t let

go till the future, tensed, breaks the silence.


Sun and rain in degrees of tenderness

groom the trees all year long. The soft fall 

of the light on the leaves, lingering like 

the silver tongue of an absent lover: 

it made the trees shiver and shimmer 

in countless shades of green. And in poor 

or bright light, seductive breeze or vicious 

heat, the streets, the eyes behind flimsy 

curtains, the trees waving softly to the wind, 

welcomed me.

And every ray of the sun, 

every drop of rain, every blade of grass 

blessed my return. When rainstorms

had exhausted themselves washing the forest,

and that clean musk perfume suffuses the air,

I could make my bed under an iroko

or redwood tree when even birds are silent,

lie face to the sky and its cauliflower clouds

or sit and watch till the avian choir,

heeding a hidden baton, wakened to song

electrifying the forest and rousing 

the squirrel to offer a nut in standing ovation. 



Kaolin white paths. I followed them at dewy

dawns to ponds, to boyish traps in tangled 

bushes, set more with hope, a child’s love 

of work as play than hunter’s cunning. 

Barefoot-battened paths: I followed them 

to sparse acres of sky-high slender-stemmed 

palm trees that swayed in manic ecstasy, 

locked in a death dance with the furious wind

plucking wide-branched tap-rooted trees 

from the earth just before the thundering sky 

unleashed its arsenal of rain spears:

        how the palm trees, so slender

        stayed unbroken in that fury 

        of wind that flung roofs like floppy

        old hats far from walls held down 

        by surprise filled me with the fear 

        of things that move by stealth unseen.

Kaolin paths of battened clay: I followed

them to the creeks and great ponds, the hot   

vapours of the swamp in January, rising 

like a wet sheet invisible till it wraps 

you with that unforgettable odour

of marine lives cooked in alluvial mud

by a relentless tropical sun, the wet tang

of decay amidst the spawn of new life.

I followed the paths cut by the naked feet

of unsung forebears to yam fields, unfenced 

household plots, their narrow bounds known 

only to the brave tillers whose sweat, mixed 

with the dead leaves of two fallow years, ash 

of the burnt fields, is all that fertilises 

the drained soil to banish hunger and despair

in these places left to fend for themselves. 

Paths of clay and black loam, overhung

with long blades of elephant grass, I

followed them home, every shrub and every tree

sparkling under the moon, my path luminous,

lighted by falling leaves twirling in the wind.



Nne. I slept every night near her unfaded hair,

a headrest of soothing black wool.

Mother of the house of love: her eyes burned

their endless wicks for the perpetual

light brighter than the midnight moon.

Above the silver of our zinc roof, the moon

pressed a white udder to quench earth’s

midnight thirst with the light of her milk.

Truths flashed from the depths of her eyes,

rebuking waywardness and indolence 

with sharper sting than words or even cane.

All the birds sang in her throat to soothe 

the afflicted minutes, break the stranglehold 

of grief from the unnameable death

of joy in the stricken house, its walls drunk

with memory and loss, crumbling to the ground.

All the doves cooed to her prayer 

for the thin and hungry man standing

like a ghost under his leaking roof, 

hemmed in by laterite walls dripping with the rain:

the doves coo to her prayer for the thin 

and hungry man, his eyes salting his face,

staring at the glittering blade of his razor.



And there I found myself a being on this earth

its boundless reaches, its rimless circumference 

unknowable to me, a boy barely three, barefoot

under a mango tree in a green-shaded

spot of the African rainforest. The air

blew softly into my heart and quickened me

to knowledge of air itself, shadows and myself.

Here I saw the sky for the first time,

the blinding flash of lightening at midday,

the thunder threatening to end the world.

I followed with dazed eyes the tube of light

from under the weighed-down orange trees,

minting bright coins at my feet. Here I saw

flowers open up their fertile hearts

to the rising sun, seed the air with pollen.

     I should have begun with Oleh, first note

of my umbilical chord, but what did I

know, on awakening, of my first residence 

on earth? My eyes were still sealed from memory’s 

vault, mere sensors of colour and light, 

when a woman widowed once again, orphaned

at nine or sooner, tied to her back the boy 

she’d craved after three daughters and the last 

husband heartbreak in search of solace 

with an uncle in her Garden of Ẹzẹ. 

And there I sat five-and-a-half decades

later on a rainwashed bamboo bench,

bees buzzing in honey petals, to begin 

my song of beginnings. And bathed

in the luminescence of my primal garden,

sandaled feet tapping to the beat of my heart,

listening to the delirious deliberations

of the birds’ treetop parliament, I call

out to the world vaster than day or dream

could ever measure, could ever give words,

certain every ell of the earth hears my voice.


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