Chi m Bulie m Elu
for Don Cornelius
He wore that Ooh! South side, that just-soldier-shy
Field Marshall Monty Ward dreamscape of cream
(Take it, make it or fake it, baby!) Rolled
His barely ten ducats into slow-smoulder
Cheroot, smoking out the institute of pop,
Collar mack-blanket flat and lip-control
Over glib rap, holding court over steez
To spread the gospel according to soul.
What did Main Street know about the “Ooh Child!
I went through the middle passage and fled
Johnny Reb so my tear-dry eyes wish you whole,
As the constitution’s said, things are gonna
Get easier.” Nobody knows her sorrow,
Ma Till, strange-fruit tune of Lady Day oriole;
With Race Records gone they slept till Don
Came spreading gospel according to soul.
Dad, self-exiled post-war could still recall
The deadly Biafra night sky with VOA’s
DJ crackling about his bush foxhole;
Now to Sunday morning groove catechism,
Prince Nico jamming with James Brown, leaving
Me free to not hate my white teacher who told
Me to love that cold stone-gas, black preacher
Who spread the gospel according to soul.
Chi m Bulie m Elu
It vaults the mere strangeness of lore this strong
Association of Igbo people with flight.
Through mysteries brother-shared with Yoruba,
Ifa astral travel, through excellence
Titled with eagle feather metaphor;
Against calumny (“They’re all pupa-pupa-
Hoppy-go-money-grub”) somehow we rise;
I’m miles afield but nwanne di na mba.
Flanked by nsibidi-carved trees, watch them
Stride to the Igbo Landing site; watch them
Walk on god-trouble water, the Joliba
Calling homeward with its brown swell of echoes:
“So far from home, motherless child, don’t tarry!
I’ve reminded you in Brazil, Cuba,
Even on decks of ships I swoop Daedal.”
Onye odu ije, nwanne di na mba.
When Dibia called the flights they came signalled
By shock as if of Dane gun clap, no fluff
To flap when buzzing ahia na Aba.
Yet with space growing toward aurorae
I find myself stretched from home-bound virtues
To far-flung lodes; Uwa a nwere kwa uba!
Onye ije ka onye isi awo ama ihe;
Enwere m nku dika ugo; Nwanne di na mba.
Uche Ogbuji (@uogbuji) was born in Calabar, Nigeria. He lived, among other places, in Egypt and England before settling near Boulder, Colorado. A computer engineer and entrepreneur by trade, his collection of poetry, Ndewo, Colorado is forthcoming in 2013 from Kelsay Books. His poems, fusing Igbo culture, European Classicism, U.S. Mountain West setting, and Hip-Hop influences, have appeared widely, most recently in IthacaLit, String Poet, The Raintown Review, Featherlit, Qarrtsiluni, Leveler, Atavic, and Shot Glass. He is editor at Kin Poetry Journal and The Nervous breakdown, founder and curator at the @ColoradoPoetry Twitter project.
Chi m bulie m elu—Igbo: Take me airborne, my self-spirit
nwanne di na mba—Igbo. Approximately: your kin keep your roots at home
nsibidi—ancient writing system primarily among secret societies of some Igbo and Efik
Joliba—Manding native name of the river Niger
Onye odu ije—Igbo. Approximately: sojourner
ahia na Aba—regular, calendrical marketplace in the Nigerian town of Aba
Dibia—Igbo traditional priest, healer and mage
Uwa a nwere kwa uba!—Igbo. Approximately: such richness in this world!
Onye ije ka onye isi awo ama ihe—Igbo proverb: the traveler accumulates more knowledge than even his elder
Enwere m nku dika ugo—Igbo. Approximately: I sprout wings line an eagle