Poems by Benson Eluma

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Myth of the Vestal Virgin

It is time to set out for the crossroads.
The vestal virgin, mother to all their mothers,
Has something for them in the mirror —
Image of herself naked
Before the morning of creation,
Yes, before the moulding of the gods.
Stick ithyphallic in her hand pointing southward,
Away from Eagle Square where our elders wait
In robes whose brightness never struggles
With the darkness in our elders’ hearts.

And as in the myth of vengeance:
Let each bear their broken vessel to the riverbank…

And as in the myth of death:
Each enters the boat not knowing what is what…

And as in the myth of life, she says:
They crack rocks with their teeth, building mausoleums
For the stealer by day and the defiler by night…

And she stands before them, mother to their mothers,
Mirror in one hand and stick in the other.

Rite of Passage

When you write about it do not say it was a cannibal band.
The metaphor may convey your utter disgust, but sooner yields
To a romance of horror, perhaps the more imaginative of your readers
Asking to know whether they had filed teeth, faces painted with blood,
Whether they’d leapt out of the treacherous earth, as the sun shut its knowing eye,
Or swooped down from on high hanging on dangling lianas, stealthier than leopards
Or snarling with the tumult of the blood mania in their heads, etc., etc., etc.
Often the devil is in such ethnographic details. DO NOT USE THAT METAPHOR.
Just say it was the NA in neat formation, acting on strict instruction.
It was not dark cannibal forces that fell in the midst of the young ones,
The young ones with a carnival mentality with which they’d put a new swagger
Into the gait of the streets for two straight weeks of jamboree and demands.
Oh, they did make demands, and on behalf of the cannibals, too.
And the NA didn’t forget the kindness, cleanliness on their conscience,
Licking the pavements dry of blood, leaving no bones, for there must be no litter.
Thus each generation learns to taste blood in its own way…

Unknown Soja

It is their father lurking in that tomb
It is for him that the heavy guns boom
They invade the treasury for this tribute
Foregathering in their numbers to kiss his boot
Don’t be fooled, he does not just eat once a year
Monster comes out night and day, hectoring the streets
Mauling children, like the bald prophet’s bear
They call upon him when they wish for treats
Unknown Soja, empty shells, pus and egos
Ghoul with an appetite for fallen heroes
Fingers of the wreath press around his neck
Throttle him and make his body shake…

Don’t look behind, here he comes, Unknown Sojaaaa!
Don’t wait for him to ask, ‘Who are you in patikulaaa?’


We won’t wait for you to make Maat a mountain
When our Pharaohs arrive with their cargoes
They will rig your scales, falsify the engine
They will yet teach you to ruin a necropolis

We won’t wait for your jackal to bare his teeth…

Here are a few things: Beware the thin ones
Beware the barrel-stomached ones, beware the broad-shouldered
Beware the hairless, beware the hirsute, also the broken
& renounce everything to do with lips, sweet or bitter

We won’t wait for your jackal to bare his teeth…

You want pieties, and pieties you will get
Bubbling in the blood of our Nigerian Pharaohs
But when on the morrow you find your mascot headless
Then will you nod, Anubis, then will you nod and know why

We won’t wait for your jackal to bare his teeth…

Leftover Limericks, 20.10.20

There was a nasty aunty of Naija
Who lost her mind because youth smoked ganja.
She cried to Lagos House
And was assigned three louts
To save her reefer warehouse from danger.

And a dissembling uncle named El-li-ot,
Quite adroit in the role of crazed zealot,
Ran berserk from the garden
Seeking ‘children’ to cozen.
But the cursers tasked him to rhyme I-di-ot.

And Raj steered a gang of archaeologists
To provide proof for the apologists.
He’d worked in two kitchens,
He knew about middens,
The team had ambitious photologists.

Then came the turn of the General
Sworn to joke at the funeral:
‘No, there were no bloodies,
‘No, there were no bodies,
‘Don’t ask me, ask my arsenal!’

Riot Act

Lemme say the truth and shame al-Shaitan.
We do have our suspicions as to how
That jungle has grown lately
With such remarkable vigour, taking on
A stance of open affront against our
Courteous, respectful sensibilities. We suspect weed,
Stubborn grass in the coat of arms. And we are right.
We shall come for you at dead of night
Armed to the teeth with bulldozers, wrecking
The softness of your snore as you dream
Of revolution and try to hide the ugly fact
Behind a blanket, sweaty with criminality.
Set up the owl to screech as we approach.
Set up a siren of your fellow mockingbirds.
One of those things we relish is the pathetic
Music of a dog barking all night long.
That is the language we understand.
Shallow graves keep our shovels excited
Till the dawn rises to meet us
Well exercised and stripped down,
The earth having nothing to show for itself
But a certain swollenness.
We know what we are talking about
When we say the moon is the timeworn skull
Of a fine dissident, and you have learnt nothing
From its cautionary glow. We know. We know.
And you will learn from that exemplary skull
Or earn the singular honour of flying
At half-mast on al-Shaitan’s flagpole.
God save your mothers. 🖐🏾


The nightmares intensify. I was filling a form some nights ago. One of the questions was Where do you see yourself? My answer was In a grave. The person attending to me changed his face. He became my brother. My dream had turned him into a census official. The government was doing an enumeration of those planning to escape from the country…
Today, I was eating some turkey and rice with dodo, and fell asleep in the office, halfway through the meal. It started to rain, thunderstorm at noon. It sounded like heavy gunshots. I heard voices. They were looking for me, describing me, just outside the door. Somebody said I wasn’t in, even though my bicycle was downstairs. The gunshots continued. I woke up, and for about a minute I wasn’t sure where I was. It took touching objects, looking inside the fridge, opening my books, lifting up a cushion from the chair, before I was reassured that I was still in the office, and that it was just the rain, which was already subsiding by the time I woke up. The electricity was still off…
And she, who must remain unnamed here because of the pain, lovingly told me last night that she’d make sure I was buried properly. Things should not be this way. I cried when I woke up. I’ve struggled with myself not to write down this part. But now I have…

Not this Carrion Land

Not this carrion land has an atonement
To work out
Not its carrion rulers
Not this land has an atonement to work out
But this people, chorus of
Shades helter-skeltering after shades
Savage puppetry, the famished
Suck out marrow and life-blood
Of the famishing maimed
The toothless gnash hardened
Gums on abdomens of the bloated
The tearless drown the tearless
And as for the potentates, shit hails shit…
Turn into the next street, and
It’s the lost lighting up a
Scarecrow to frighten the noontide
It’s the scarred bashing the silliness
Out of the undecided
It’s the indifferent washing their hands
In entrails of the knowing
The infirm abuse the infirm
And as for the potentates, shit hails shit…
Not this carrion land has an atonement
To work out
Not its carrion-feasting rulers
Not this land has an atonement
To work out
But this people
O my people
Bespoken for a century of nails
Past caring that in this storm
Thunder issues no notice
Before hammering vengeance.


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