When Harry and I were about to part on November 5 last year at the end of the Lagos International Poetry Festival, we both pledged never to wait so long again before getting in touch with each other. Harry smiled in his usual childlike manner, whispered goodbye as though he didn’t want the wind to hear his voice, and we went into a long and fraternal embrace. Upon my return to the U.S., I sent him a short email with “Animistically yours” as its jocular sign-off conclusion – a mischievous play on the title of his then new and long-expected collection of poems. Harry never sent me postcards without including his own poetic inscription, and I hardly ever failed to return his poetic favour. The following poem, bestirred from its archival slumber for this occasion, is an (amended) instance of our epistolary poetic exchange some 28 years ago….
* * *
Your Word rode the wind like a tender horse
High in the saddle, with a friendly force
Over the mountains, across the sea
With a friendly fare so fair and free
What princely verse
In this City of Jazz
A long-missed Word from a gentle bard
Inscribed on the back of a pretty card
Who plumbs the wound and probes the scar
His eyes all day on the cloudless star
Your Word on a card yellow with age
Your long-limbed letters on its settled page
On the colourful front a king on a mule
With a pageant of chiefs and their beaded rule
What princely verse
In a City of Jazz
Where the river is long, its current so strong
And the Birds of Dawn never miss their song
Where the saxophone wails like a wounded wind
And the hurricane rages like a beast unkind
Here nights are long, the days are cold
The price of a yam is a ton of gold
Oh how I miss the Thursday Group
The soiree of songs, the pepper-soup
But the weeks roll on, the moons never tarry
(Faster, for sure, than the letters of Harry!)
The sojourner waits for the homing call
Hurry here, summer, and then the fall
Brother-bard, greet all our friends
And all their songs and their rainbow trends
If this letter, with speed, is fraught
I scribbled it here at a noisy port
New Orleans Airport
March 10, 1992.
* * *
The shadows still play
hide-and-seek with the sun;
the dreams are dense with dread.
Can the scars ever forget their wounds?. . . .
Good night, Harry. . . . Good morning.
Niyi Osundare is one of Africa’s foremost poets and a Distinguished Professor of the University of New Orleans (UNO), where he teaches in the English Department.