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I SEE MYSELF IN YOU

By Juanita Cox Westmaas

Saturday, 2 March 2013.

I see myself in you.
Torso.
I want to let you run through bougainvillea
And chirp to the song of crickets
To climb the guava tree and curl your toes
Into dusty red earth as soldier ants convoy past
And butterflies dart in the heady humid air
Of spectacular yellow Coctu, purple Hibiscus and cooking-pot stew
But my stomach balks at the taste of mendacity
And the disquieting dismemberment of you.

Drained like my mother’s claypot
I was dry of blood.
Discovered in the River Thames
As bobbing sodden tore
Bereft of bearings or bushes,
They called me Afro-Caribbean:
I could have been. We share a limbo dance and more.
They later thought seven half-candles and a sheet to the waves
Tied me to the crude blue ilk of Adekoye Adeoye
But it did not
For he, the honourable Fola, was found drumming
Rhapsodic reprieve from the twin tower eclipse
Of shock and awe. My fate,
Until they found me ten days later,
Was a lonely grave by the south bank
Of Tower Bridge and Globe Theatre.

No mother of comfort to weep my departure,
No heat reflected off cracked asphalt or
Burnt amber roads to warm my watery tomb,
No fresh sticky scent of squeezed ripe mango or
The pound, pound, pound of fufu to
Entice and guide me on my way.
Not even two minutes of silence.
What kind of Mami Wata was called upon by
My guardians, murdering cohort of three,
To spin me up and down
Through sewage-ridden waves
The colour of fireless coal
In the deep deep sleep of night?
How could She name me Ikpomwosa?
What lies! What irony! Ogun I swear
My spirit will haunt her.

And you, Bawa Juju I watched your face.
Trusting I drank of the cup and ate of the bread.
With the curiosity of an innocent child peering into
The narrow neck of a large earthenware pot
I stared into the pit of your eyes without knowing
Their dark hollow expanse would soon be pouring
With the sweat of sawing exertion.  I did not know
My frothing, gulping scream would not echo.
Could not echo. Could not even sound.
Poisoned and paralyzed my terror
Stood blank in the light of an impotent moon,
The tongues that bubbled incantations
And shadows that danced among the splashes of potent
Ogogoro, scented oils, sea-shells and breathe-blown chalk dust,
Corn, candlesticks and fleeing bright
Bright powders.

The baffled and inquisitive settled for Adam:
And perhaps I am a beginning without end.
My beckoning trunks of orange
The slight codpiece of dignity
Sewn with wool for what its worth
It needles back without point from a bed
Of shopping trolleys, urban waste and
Garbage ridden-silt to a branch of my
Trafficked existence in Hamburg.
The riddled colon of plant extract,
Toxic calabar bean and clay with
Flecks of pure pure gold testify to
My origins in Edo State.
I was a small child, a boy of five,
Maybe six years old.

Some say you are Patrick Erhabor but
How can anyone be sure?

Bawa Juju you accused me of witchcraft,
Fatal punishment for a word I did not even understand.
I should feel pity for your worthless soul,
Instead I rage.
You stole from me.
Forest elephant, pale-fronted Negro finch,
Hyena, Bush baby, Yellow-Throated Cuckoo, cuckoo
And red river hog drowned in your insatiable greed
Or were they eaten by the fishermen who
Did not care for my dreams of Eba and Egusi Soup
Boiled yam and Ogbono,
And my grandmother’s Oghwo Ovwri:
For there is no smoked fish
In the River Thames
Only leaves of bitter tricks.

But limbo is not forever.
I am Ahigbe. I am Olokun.
I, Bawa Juju, will find you.

Juanita Cox Westmaas is a London-based poet, writer and academic.


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