Japa chronicles – Toni Kan

...in commemoration of World Poetry Day


Japa is to slough off the skin

To learn to swim upstream

Mouth open and panting like fish

Because every new place is like dry land

And you, hapless fish must fight

To become a land animal

Where water was once home


New to the British isles

I stand on one leg

My senses are sponges

Soaking up everything I see

I am the ghost of Hamlet’s father

Doomed for a season to walk this isle


London is dirty and London smells

London is dirty and smells of piss

And the effing cost of living crisis

London is dirty and London smells


On my evening walk in Lewisham

I pass two young black boys

Faces furrowed with frowns

Looking for someone to stab them

My wife says ika buruku

Yoruba for “you are evil”

But I am not evil

I am just a truth-teller


Riding shot-gun in Peckham Rye

A police stop and search

Reminds me of that night

Many moons ago in Lagos

When a careless finger enraged the trigger

And a bullet ended a teenager’s dream

But here in Peckham Rye all I think of

Is Chris Kaba unarmed and dead

And the Met Police spouting platitudes


To Japa is to be humped back

To become the fabled ijapa

Who journeys every where bearing his home on his back

We Nigerians who have Japa’d

Have all become hunch backs

Bearing the memories of the places

We left behind on our bent backs

Stalking LinkedIn for whitewashed jobs

And wondering whether these Indians spouting bad English

In corner shops ever heard of TOEFL?


Excerpted from an ongoing project, Japajantis: An immigrant’s journey.


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