When you think of a country, chances are that the words ‘loyalty’ and ‘patriotism’ may cross your mind. Leaders expect citizens to be loyal and patriotic. So, when a woman’s body is equated with a country, it connotes power and influence.
In his second collection of poems A Woman’s Body is a Country, Dami Ajayi exercises the power and the influence of the poet to give words and phrases meanings beyond the ordinary.
This 69-page collection with 68 poems unveils the social commentator in Ajayi. Nigeria has been unable to provide stable power supply for its people, a situation which has led to the collapse of many a business and has frustrated small and medium scale entrepreneurs. The poet subtly criticises this when he croons about “listening to the orchestra of generators”, which, he adds, “sing a symphony of a failed State”.
The government’s failure dirge also resonates in the poem ‘Sunday Afternoons’, in which the poet cries about how “NEPA strikes again and hand fans replace ceiling rotors”.
The poem ‘Twenty-two couplets’ laments the missing Chibok girls, but it is in the poem ‘On Chibok’ that the poet really examines the travails of these girls held captive while seeking knowledge.
Ajayi also mocks suicide bombers who die hoping “to fuck virgins in heavenly suites” and wonders why they always shout “God is great” as though it is a hidden fact.
If you are not careful, you may miss the poet’s jab at Lord Lugard for the creation of Nigeria, which the poet sees as an “eternal mistake”.
The good doctor alludes to the power of hashtags in fanning revolutions wondering “who waters the placards planted under Falomo bridge”— a reference to the Lagos arm of the Bring Back Our Girls movement.
In the poem ‘Poet Harcourt’, Ajayi laments the absence of gardens in the Garden City, which only boast of “roads that shine black with night drizzle”. This subtle jab at the Rivers State capital reminds us about the inability of leaders to protect well planned metropolis inherited from the colonialists.
Unlike Port Harcourt, which receives a mild rebuke, Lagos, the city described by novelist and poet Toni Kan as carnivorous in nature, gets jabs from Ajayi. He describes it as a city where dreams die in the poem ‘Lagos Bunnies’ and ‘Lagos Bunnies 11’.
When dreams die in Lagos, the poet says “we incinerate them” and he says day dreams suffer more because “we impale them, banish them to cisterns”. He also sings about Ikoyi, which “rarely sees beyond finery” and “an occasional power cut”. His jabs at Lagos, of course, include the ubiquitous gridlock that makes commuting within the city a curse.
Do you remember those UNICEF adverts that give the impression that there are no rich kids in Africa? They do not escape the social commentator in the poet.
In ‘Die A Little’, the poet asks if he has met a little girl and answers “perhaps in some UNICEF poster”. He laments the facts that “anaemia is the antithesis of capitalist ads” and “bad air blotches mosquito-kissed skin”. Poverty porn and malnutrition also receive ‘honorary’ mentions.
On page 57, Ajayi, with the line “my madam-at-the-top”, brings back memory of the spokesman of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) who wobbled and fumbled during a Channels Television interview and trended for his line “my oga at the top”.
Ajayi’s collection is not just about the ‘serious’; the ‘mundane’ such as sex also gets his attention.
In the poem ‘Four phases of passion’, Ajayi tells us about voyeurs, sexual tension, and curling toes induced by orgasm. He also remembers to tell us that “only the bearer of fluid tires (olomi lo ma re)”.
In the title poem, Ajayi continues the ‘sexual connection’ and tells of how a man gets aroused because “she shakes herself” and how “the loyal swelling of a man’s body” amounts to patriotism since “a woman’s body is a country”.
With A Woman’s Body is a country, Ajayi delivers a collection that reimagines perceptions, probes interactions and makes day-to-day events haunting. The poems sing, hum, breathe, and walk on all fours.
What more is there to say about the pictures this sophomore collection paints of the author? Well, it screams, and loudly too, that Ajayi is a dazzling, convincing and stirring poet who deserves the attention of all and sundry.
–Olukorede S. Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father and Vaults of Secrets.