Two Poems by Syl Cheney-Coker

Sannu de Aike *

                    Poem for a former student now a lecturer:

                    Neem Tree Woman


Now I can call you that without hesitation.

Without the need of mellifluous words, or the

sweet melodies of the kora to accompany my songs.

On the crest of dawn, the cow egrets are listening;

I can call you that because you are, well, that!

In your svelte presence, the baobab stands tall:

a proud, organic woman- wise, noble, protective

of lesser trees from life’s daily harm: outlandish.

Here, the sumac grows after a storm; its bark softens

to wonder medicines and the primary dyes glisten.

You enhance the day with your smile over there;

happiness flows into whatever you touch: radiant,

magical and shea-buttered – the truly harmonious!

With your new laurels, your head brightly

turbaned, the colours of ancient lore shine.

You will teach your students how to walk

proudly on the paths where the gazelles

weave skeins of old narratives: quiet visitors

with watchful, beautiful eyes; enigmatic,

unpredictable, but wonderful, as life can be!


*Hausa Greeting.



Your skin was the colour of heritage:

luminous gold whispering about old frontiers, the

sweet aromas where the lemon grass breathed, and

your voice was the soft fabric woven in childhood.

You are older and wiser now, so I wish you

and your friend a splendid time in Abuja,

the morning of blue rain that is a treasured child,

old rocks that come alive under the shimmering stars,

the nearby desert sings, and the hours dance to its

golden sand drums, decrying this threat to freedom

by the mushrooming nuisance of un-savory houses.


Tomorrow, in the market, you will search

for something to take back to Maiduguri;

that ancient land of horses and proud Kanuri*.

Let the smiles and the perfumes of the women

be your guides; drape yourself in the luxuriant

vision of the dye makers, drink the colourful

sweetness of the troubadours, the batik artists’ joy.

Your soul will be touched by their symmetry.

In the climate of change where you teach,

the young angry Turks, impatient cubs,

have shaven the beards of the old prophets.

So I wish you luck with your new perspective.

You will sit there, relaxed, an encouraging light

nodding at you, the taste of your dreams inviolate;

just before morning comes to refresh the desert;

as though the sea itself had come inland to you of late.


*Original inhabitants of the ancient city of Maiduguri

 Syl Cheney-Coker (born 1945) is a poet, novelist, and journalist from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Educated in the United States, he has a global sense of literary history, and has introduced styles and techniques from French and Latin American literatures to Sierra Leone. He has spent much of his life in exile from his native country, and has written extensively (in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction) about the condition of exile and the view of Africa from an African abroad.


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