This Week’s Poem by Ben Okri

January 13, 2024
1 min read

Living is a Fire
Living is a cross
That any one of the rock-faces
We are drawn
To many seas.
We drown wholesomely
In the failures of confrontation.
The rain
Our doorsteps
Has nothing to do
With the simplest desires
And lacerations
We bring
To the smallest acts
Of living.
The child
On the broken catwalk
Hearing the sounds of our hunger
Without understanding
Throws echoes back
To the earliest abandonments
Of love.
Minor devastations preceding
Resonate the ineffable.
The mothers that wake
At the slightest sound
And the fathers that
Smoke all night
And the rest of us who are
Vigilantes from the demons
Of oppressed sleep
Find at dawn the clearest
Images of bewilderment.
Even the best things
Collapse beneath the weight
Of ignorance.
Living is a fire
That any one of the wave-lashes
Editor’s note: Culled from Ben Okri’s The African Elegy. Published by Jonathan Cape (London). Copyright Ben Okri
Ben Okri was born in 1959 in Minna, Northern Nigeria. He spent some of his childhood years in London before returning to Nigeria with his parents in 1968.
This was at the peak of the Nigerian Civil War. The violence and injustice he saw impacted on his early fiction. He left Nigeria when he won a government scholarship to read Comparative Literature at Essex University in England. He was poetry editor for West Africa magazine between 1983 and 1986 and broadcast regularly for the BBC World Service between 1983 and 1985. He was appointed Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge in 1991, a post he held until 1993. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1987, and was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Westminster (1997) and Essex (2002).In 1991 Okri was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Famished Road (1991).  He is a member of the board of the Royal National Theatre, and was awarded an OBE in 2001. He lives in London.

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