Born in Nigeria, Inua Ellams is a cross art form practitioner, a poet, playwright & performer, graphic artist & designer and founder of the Midnight Run — an international, arts-filled, night-time, playful, urban, walking experience. He is a Complete Works poet alumni and a designer at White Space Creative Agency. Across his work, Identity, Displacement & Destiny are reoccurring themes in which he also tries to mix the old with the new: traditional african storytelling with contemporary poetry, pencil with pixel, texture with vector images. His poetry is published by Flipped Eye, Akashic, Nine Arches & several plays by Oberon.
The Saxophone Player’s Mouth.
When you sample, you’re not only picking up that sound, you’re picking up the room it was recorded in. — Odissee
In the solo / the mouth of the saxophone is still wet with the player’s spit / The player’s mouth is dark / as caves and what’s inscribed inside is decipherable / only when he blows / His mother’s flailing arms flutter his notes / like ghosts feathering winds and the band knows to let him be
The drum’s skin is still stretched with the drummer’s hard sweat / The drummer’s hands are black holes / Able to hold and hallow time / he cuts rifts in the room’s fabric / Out leaks civil war cries / malnourished kids / their bellies swollen / vultures harvesting flesh / whole forests on fire
The piano still holds the pianist’s fingerprints / They have slipped between keys / between bars / vanished into a netherworld-quagmire / never again to touch sunlight / each print a political prisoner / a questioning civilian / a halved life
The steel guitar strings still drip the guitarist’s blood / The guitarist plays on / his thumb a blurred stump / skin a shred of prayer / His bleeding strum troubles the air / like singed tyres / lynched thieves /open gutters and dump sites
The room is a broken shrine / amplifiers fallen idols / mic stands resting spears / sound booths standing coffins / and outside / the saxophone player’s wives fear uniformed men / Their scars gleam afresh / they flinch at marching boots / cross their legs / thighs trembling
Inside / the band makes offering of their worries / the saxophone player makes altar of himself / When he blows / what sprays the sax / the spit within comes like fragments of bone / like shrapnel / shredded iron / his mother’s vertebra / wife’s spirit / calcified dreams of a fluid rebellion / aflame
This is what you hear / what quakes your blood / spirals you into a walking thorn – crown of barbed wire / fists of wild daughters / death in your pouch / swagger in your tongue / claws in your nostrils / the earth beneath you unsurprised Fela Kuti has possessed you / and is still alive
Soldier / Ants
The rumour which came first as a drop off Hamza’s lips / the same rumour half corroborated by Sope’s big sister / half dismissed by the French teacher / who being Ghanaian could not be trusted / so turned that drop to a tide of unquenchable truth / that swelled and rocked inside us / the rumour was that the old joke who shuffled out of the horizon / into out parched playground on mid-afternoon Fridays / that thin moustache / bent over / heavily leaning on his walking stick / that twitching quiver of a man / had been a drill sergeant during the Biafran war / who warned his company of the unsafe territory / as they sloughed off their rifles to kick about a ball / in the elixir of their freedom / And he pushed on through the bush to check / macheteing away brambles / thorns / branches / and returned to find a field of corpses / his friends drawn and quartered into a pile of limbs / torsos already bloating in the harmattan heat / swarms of flies feasting on their flayed flesh / And the thing that held up the spine in him turned and left his body / his pulse dulled / Whatever else that fled from him crossing that battlefield / left only his voice intact / and this is why it comes so loud / like the ravaging sun itself / beating us into submission / LEFT / LEFT / LEFT / RIGHT / LEFT / our small bodies / short legs darkening / into a single file / like marching soldier ants / and in his mind / ordering our freedom / through that same bush / and out to the other side
Light poem #0732
The ice-like clarity Inuits enjoy / of their native skies / the way it gathers the natural soft of snow-reflected light / into its wide self / holds it up to frame stars / long after rays retire / isn’t cherished or sought out by us / urban-dwelling folk / who / by oil or alcohol lamps / carved our own stars from glass / sowed in them electric seeds / steel nuclei to burn / granting us luminescence / these egg-sized supernovas / trapped in lamplights I choose to free now / flick the switch / draw closed the blinds / unplug the artificial for a miner’s light / a lone candle / flame blinking in the dark / and search my native self / for anything shimmering