The Corona Verses: Nigerian Poets React To COVID-19
Editor’s note: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to its knees and millions around the world cannot comprehend what is going on at the moment.
Though it is not the first time that the world has been crippled by a pandemic, however, this virus has left the world more vulnerable than it has ever been; and there are many who can no longer see a light at the end of the tunnel.
In times past, when the world came to such a devastation, poets would take it upon themselves to make sense of the situation, to give clear expression of mixed feelings, and to put things in a different light than it would have ordinarily been seen. Bearing this in mind, we reached out to poets and asked them to come with words for the recreation of the earth; we reached out to poets to painstakingly forge poems that will not only reveal feelings and put emotions in measure; but to knit verbs that would bring us closer to vital truths.
We reached out to poets both established and fledgling, with a hope that their metaphors will help us reinvent the wheel; with faith that their gift of language will bring us healing and help us find closure. We reached out believing that their lines will aid us in coming to terms with the importance of even the unconscious materials which we encounter in lockdown, in quarantine, while social distancing and in isolation.
It is our desire that everyone who comes in contact with these poems will find in them, potent energies with which they can press on in this rather depressing time. While you enjoy this poems, we hope that they inspire you never to give up, we hope that they remind you that you are not alone at this moment; we believe that together, this common foe will be defeated.
A leap year & her potentate
(by Dami Ajayi)
But who would have thought
Virus, not man.
No sceptre or mace,
No frisson of blond hair
Tousled in ensuing helicopter blade whirls.
Virus, named for envelope
Global North deserves a gift from the East,
Carried in spores, spur of the moment,
A sneeze in the mid-clouds
& what is given cannot be taken back.
Now Europe sits wonky,
situation room of the world.
To think that Rome could be crippled again
with viral load
& an African sun will scorch viral particles even in churches.
The tall world order of ironies
that makes TFL unnerving,
I douse myself in hand sanitizer gel
& replace a frisky smile with that black nod
& open sesame.
Dami Ajayi is the author of two poetry collections, most recently, A Woman’s Body is a Country.
The Corona Verses: A Poem
(by Tolu Daniel)
The last time I saw her was a day before the lockdown,
Time froze under that bridge where we held hands;
That music from her touch –
still singing – in my blood.
So, go tell it to the virus:
“Many lockdowns can not quench love.”
The last time I passed my bus-stop was two months ago,
Our “Ruler”- says we must stay at home;
But there is no home- without food in the kitchen,
And my stomach tells me that rules were made to be broken.
Abeg, make una remind dat virus:
“Hunger is deadlier, so it’s not you we are scared of!”
The last time the politicians visited was never;
they are lab-rats for the foriegners!
But all cages abroad are now closed,
we will treat them, in facilities they didn’t build.
Please, quietly help us thank the virus,
At least now they’ll pay us more, attention!
The last time was a boom when Ebola came,
business never remained the same!
The gullibility of the common man-
O what a bottomless gold-mine!
What shall we say of the virus?
“Hmmm, yes! Ritual-taxes! To pacify ancestors!”
V. Common man:
The last time we were fooled was a lifetime ago;
We are born again now, our múmù don dey do!
Where’s that guy who desperately wanted to free the sheeple?
Well, the sheeple in lockdown are hungry, still awaiting his donations.
Let us hence pay tithes unto the virus:
“Thank you, for making us realize that our runaway-daddy never truly loved us!”
The next time we are tagged as lazy youths,
We will remind them of who made Savage trend on Twitter;
Our “active elders” want us to smile while we suffer,
But we are crazier than they think; we will suffer, make jests and laugh hard!
About the virus? Say no more,
On social media we’ve already said more than enough.
Aunty says next week we shouldn’t come to school,
Mummy, is the Corona starting on Monday?
And why does aunty want to teach us from your phone?
aren’t we meant to be on holidays?
I don’t know what to say to that Vai-worse,
Daddy, what’s the meaning of “Vai-worse”?
The next time reality takes the place of religion,
the world will still theorize it as conspiracy.
So we’ve learnt, that he who goes against the flow
must anticipate the wrath of the ocean;
Yet, we say nothing else unto this virus,
except “Be gone and cast into the sea!”
Next time, we will be proactive!
Closed airports will be the first thing!
And it won’t matter if it’s the President’s kid,
Our nation means more than my next-kin!
Honestly, there’s nothing to say to the virus,
but to our negligence and unpreparedness.
Whichever time we awaken from this nightmare,
please brew us some coffee in abundance –
that we may spend sleepless nights
in the refinery of our day-dreams.
And whatever we say or don’t say to the virus,
May it not leave us bereft of our visions!
Tolu NeoDaniel works as an admin staff member of The Light House Believers Network (TLHBN). On the side, he’s working on launching a think-tank for policy analysts & public administrators, while also developing a career in transmedia storytelling & script-writing for Science-fiction/fantasy projects. When he escapes work activities, he cools off by writing poetry and Rap music.
(by Samuel Ugbechie)
When death comes it comes small,
silent, viral, thin like a cry, but in this night,
in cold slithering out of a can
of shut buildings, I call you all day, to touch
your glance, to smell your lonely pulse.
I call you with eyes closed like a corked gourd,
too scared to see your wet face flung
to the screen of the phone. I call to cry,
because weeping is tart and tasty. Here,
in the room, your breath spreads and stutters
like a tide, and I fear you’re about to drown
like all the souls that keep drowning, grannies
pulling heaven down too close, too soon.
Uncles and aunties kissing sharp edges
of eternity. Why does life ring so thick
and sink so quick? What part of my lungs
is bed to one of the tiniest visitors
ever known? Mail me a breath, love.
Send me a parceled sigh. Sing me the words
sealed in those long, lean, vigilant lungs.
I dance still good, I waltz still well.
In the night, crash the moon, fuse the million
stars as fire and flame the body of the frozen
world. What we have is thick with spittle and taut
with love, and as floods run like songs down
our roads, forcing out, tonight, this stench
of global fever, I cling like scars to your skin,
the wound stitched and woven by time,
words gonging soft like mercy, distance shrinking
back into the posture shot in its finest gown.
(by Joy Chime)
In the end, we always go back to the beginning.
We always find time, we always make time to go back to the basics
Basics like kindness, like generosity, like the necessity of rest and the comfort of family in the middle of a pandemic
In the end, we see that going back might be or reveal the way forward.
And on our way back, we find that what we thought was the end was only a bend.We find there are multiple bends, and multiple beginnings,
multiple journeys in one lifetime,
each serving to remind us of what is truly important.
Because we forget, oh, how we forget
But if you bend at a right angle, you’ll see that one way to look at this pandemic is as a reminder
A reminder that life is short, and can be difficult.
But it can also immerse you over and again in oceans of joy so deep, your heart might burst.
A reminder that the world won’t roll over and die if you stop to rest
A reminder that we can focus on several things at once,
that joy sometimes comes on the heels of sorrow,
that opportunities abound in misfortune,
that hope makes pain a little more bearable,
and that there is good in this world.
So go on, my friend, bend at a right angle. See what reminders you find
When Joy was ten, she wanted to be a teacher. She ditched the idea when her teachers went on strike over unpaid salaries.
Now, nearly two decades later, Joy is a memorable, fairly used poet whose stage name is JoyToTheWords. She performs barefoot and teaches the performance of spoken word on Instagram @joytothewords_. She is also a compulsive editor and proofreader, and a co-curator at SmallSmallPoems on Twitter and Instagram.
(by Akeem Oyalowo)
She became silent with a holiday stare
Wheeled through with sights that sent out scares
Feelings that gives fever to emotions
Unforgettable is another name for devotion
She was going through a war, with her spirits acting the soldier
A daughter delivered while she was fast asleep
To continue living, is to put a life at risk
A fever chill
Frisked her whole being
Patches of space for her to breathe became dodgy
When her daughter came in,
It appeared that she dodged a meeting
A sleep so deep that left her empty
When she woke up, she became a cynosure and envy
Heavy with love, heavier with gratitude
She wanted to give a hug
But they’ve measured distance in longitude and latitude
How long it will take to get return stares
Something to stir a feeling, that’s been solid from the beginning
Blue eyes peering into green
Fear takes flight when you come to the centre of the screen
Years of emotions packed into a few days
When she receives the all clear,
She will dazzle in the sun’s rays
Starting with tiny feet
Startling all with her big dreams
She came here for the takeover
On a day among those that the earth chose to stay sober
Eternal optimists are praying for June to return us to normal
So we begin our December dreams starting from October
Finding it easier to stay home and breathe with stealth
Same thing an Aleppo child did years ago just to live
But now we do not have the luxury of a mother’s hug
We have not been charmed, if we hold our breath to hear our brother talk
We are just stalking the day
While stuck in the bay of the unknown
Movie stars with flags will not be the heroes today
Saying Will will fly in to save the world was such an easy thing to say
Lab coats and masks
That leaves teardrops and marks
Will bear out the heroes’ tribe
Men and women, not trained to do things, this hard to describe
Doing all these while not knowing, if he and her would survive
This being the script, half done by a scribe…
Akeem Oyalowo. Nigerian. Poet. University of Ibadan Graduate. More than a decade working on some of Nigeria’s popular brands. Presently doing same in West and central Africa. More than 2 decades of writing poetry.
This is the age of the germophobe
(by Kem Bon)
This is the age of the germophobe
This new normal is the germphobe’s haven
This is the age of the paranoid
Even your mother
Shut your doors
Trust no one
This is the age of technology
Work from home
Be at home
Do the work
Speak on zoom
Teleconference on Skype
Chat on WhatsApp
This is the age of distance
This is a call to humans
Do not socialize
Protect your space
Stay alive or die trying !
Kemi Bon is a family lawyer with ten years of active practice. Poetry is a hobby that she has pursued from childhood and her consistency at it can be credited to her love for words and expression of her experiences and observations of life through poems. In her spare time she composes children’s songs and writes short children stories just for fun. Kemi Bon has written several poems, most of which question the stereotypes. She considers herself a unique feminist whose views simply state that every human being should be respected in the roles they choose to play in the society.
(by 16-year-old Emem Usoro)
We’re in a pandemic
Caused by a virus named COVID found in 19
It has destroyed many nation’s economy,
caused layoffs and left many hungry
Killed thousands and the world’s still counting
But amidst all these things, you’ve made us closer to what’s most important: Family
You came in and showed us we can live without the things we tagged priority
The glitter, glam, travels all forms of luxury.
They call you a pandemic, obviously you’re chaotic
But as humans we only stress the bad things
But beyond all that, you’re eye opening
You’ve shown us truly what the definition of reality,
which is to value, love and acknowledge the people around us.
And it’s bigger than what mankind thinks
Everyone surrendering at your feet, the world’s on its knees
Cries, Sighs, from our mouths comes all forms of plea
You’ve takes away people, things, economies at the blink of an eye
As the masses sigh and cry
I believe you’re here to teach a lesson, but not as my people die!
You’re a pandemic you were not expected
And you’ve overstayed your welcome
Lessons learnt we’ll try our best
Go back to where you came from!
It’s the least we deserve, judging by all the harm you’ve served.
Leave lessons learnt.
Emem Usoro was born in 2003. She aspired to be broadcaster right from an early age. Emem developed her love for literary arts while in secondary school and was a member of the team that represented Nigeria in the Oldham Debate Competition in Singapore in April 2019 and the World Schools Debate Championship in Bangkok Thailand July 2019. She is currently waiting to start her university degree in Communication Arts.
There is a New death in Town
(by Madu Chisom)
There is a new death in town with a cavalry
Of tiniest demons waging war against us,
Spreading earthquakes across the hearts.
There is anew death in town, crossing closed
Borders and spreading its footprints of obituary.
It has knifed the world into the talons of limbo,
Leaving scars of Golgotha on the smiles of men.
There is a new death in town in the rainbow
Of a third world war — fought without arms;
It has broken the backbone of nations leaving
The economy on the wheelchair of miscarriages.
Now many toil in ghost markets to meet hunger
At home and homes are now self-made prisons,
For cities are now in lockdown wearing fleshes
Of skeletons in forced honeymoon of curfew.
I’ve wept and isolated from my broken grandma,
For the microbes of this new death have pulled
down the walls of her immune system as her
Breath cracks under the claws of chronic cold.
Now we must scurry and fight a common foe.
Left not behind in hand-ablution under
running water to the crucifix of the microbes.
Elbow your sneeze and cough to cut the spreadsheet.
We must now live like the hermits, dodging
Every crowded ensemble, wearing nose masks
And hand gloves like the surgeon in those places
Where the sick and victims have defiled the air.
No kisses, no hugs, no pecks, no caresses…
Permanent your handshakes in your pockets.
Madu Chisom is an Award winning Nigerian Poet and Travel Consultant. He lives everywhere and nowhere.
(by Nkasi Mbonu)
Prisons without bars
The rusty wind and her wings
The broken child in halves
The whispering grass quiet
The trees sit on her branches
Broken words on lips of old
The hour is near
Tickling away into quietus
Crawl in the wind
Sit on the sun
If you can, breathe the rain
Eat of the child’s flesh
But this prison is yours
Agony and excitement
Chaos, then peace
A peaceful war
(An end is near)
Written on the stars
Hope is of the fathers
My skin burns
Heaven has forgotten
I pray you
A hearth for a heart
Nkasiobi Mbonu is a love poet from Imo State, Nigeria. Her works have been published on Guardian LifeMag, Uplift, Okadabooks and others alike. With a novel in progress, she is a peace, love and human rights advocate. She has a flare for art, culture and tourism. She loves animals too.
We cannot all die
(by Erhio Obodo)
Some say it came from foreign shores
This virus with no known cure
Seeping through closed doors
It started a war
Fingers keep pointing left and right
Historians are not yet sure what to write
We search frantically for it’s end
As death tolls and indexes trend
Pandemonium and Panic
It’s almost absurd
How the mighty World Eight
Lock their gates
And try to protect their wards
Comes widespread grief
We are forced to see the elephant in the room
The fight to save the human race
Has the faithful pray for Mercy and Grace
I think it’s the unknown that gets to us
Knowing we are not in control and not the boss
The uncertainty dwelling in the air
The unsettling feeling of despair
The odds are if you cough and sneeze
You might end up not being able to breathe
That’s strong enough to empty the streets
Waving white flags we admit defeat
Yet with sheet after sheet
We cover our loved ones
Without a proper goodbye
This is beyond an eye for an eye
It’s a complete war zone out there
Humanity is being laid bare
Our army is running out of scrubs and masks
Our leaders don’t know what else to ask
The people struggle with right and wrong
Survival is the trending song
The tune has changed from integrate
To lock your doors and isolate
Depends on your ability
To stay away from anything community
But even that maybe false
Since we can’t state it’s source
Or define its course.
It boils down to self defense
Fortify and hide within your fence
Keep your space nuclear
No outsiders reduces the fear
Redefine the term spic and span
Make a hobby of washing your hands
Amidst it all
Remember your neighbors beyond your walls
The aged, the homeless and the poor
It’s a tough call
It’s what makes us who we are
The ability to keep love and fear in a single jar
We may not comprehend
But we will suspend
Adapt and combat
Change and keep changing
Learn and keep learning
You and I must survive
Must fight to stay alive
We cannot all die.
Erhio has over the years honed her artistic abilities as an Actress Singer and Poet. She is an active member of three choral groups, two poetry platforms, two stage drama troupes and she does editing for online blogs and scriptwriters. You can reach her at [email protected]
(by Echezona Nduka)
The last time I fell while cycling,
I rose to the torment of loud heartbeats
& shortness of breath.
I have updated my list of cravings to include
standing aside to watch you interrogate my nightmares,
passing each story like a thread through the eye of a needle.
I watch you stitch our affections together with steady hands,
then tug at the string to measure its firmness.
I sit at the table you set as an invitation to choose life.
Your hands are soft & I wonder if stitching makes them so.
Perhaps that was what mother did: stitching lives & broken
families back in shape with songs & steady hands.
Take out the shrubs & plant me instead.
There’ll be enough rain for songs on arrival.
Don’t wait for the hypeman’s rhymes. Don’t take
the option of viewing grasslands from high-rise buildings.
See how I have become a seed ripe for harvest, an envy
of prairies in spring. The sower isn’t soaked in alcohol,
announcing figures false enough to draw blood.
There’s now a dirge for the fear I once nursed in transit.
The art of rebelling with music is as old as earth’s first heap
of sand, yet new on my tongue.
Even solitude submits to the whim of climates & the taste of tamarinds.
Shadows have reappeared for birds with broken wings—
perching on forbidden territories.
They smell the scent of flowers & heal in time for migrating flights.
Say no to birds with new songs; watch beaks break their bonds with sobriety.
Who would have thought that your name alone could harm weeds
in this garden we all groom in absence?
Take out the shrubs & plant me instead.
See now how I have become the flower for all seasons—
seizing the heat of this world with subtle laughter
© Echezonachukwu Nduka (2020)
Echezonachukwu Nduka, poet and classical pianist, is the author of Chrysanthemums for Wide-eyed Ghosts. He holds degrees in Music from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Kingston University London, UK.
In 2016, he was awarded the Korea-Nigeria Poetry Prize on World Poetry Day. Hailed by the Guardian Life Magazine as ‘Artist Extraordinaire’, his work
has been published in The Indianapolis Review, Transition, River River, Bombay Review, The Village Square Journal, Bakwa Magazine, Saraba, Jalada Language Anthology, 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry Vol. II, A Thousand Voices Rising: An Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry, among others. He can be found online at www.artnduka.com
(by Phebe Lion)
All hail the virus.
King COVID the Nineteen of the house Corona. First of its name. The unburnt. Destroyer of the seven continents. Lord Regnant. Oppressor of oppressors of the global kingdoms. Terrorist of terrorists. Breaker of chains. Tamer of lions.
“DRACARYS” said the virus and the world’s largest inferno blazes. Mighty. Invincible. It’s dragons of fear exhale upon the earth, generous with their COVID souvenirs of untimely death.
The earth is tasteless. The universe gropes in darkness. Salt is no longer the master seasoning.
The city set on the hill is suddenly hidden.
CAN cannot CAN and PFN would not dare Put the F in the N.
The body of christ is nothing different from the anatomy of mere men.
The poor can no longer afford a church service for church is strictly for the Android users with data and some extra credit..
How can you feed the flock when spiritual eateries are shut down?
Isn’t mama put still allowed to sell her vegetable soup and pounded yam?
For years, you have boasted about your ultimate authority over sickness and disease.
Yet! an outdated COVID 19 shows up in 2020 and sweeps you off the streets.
Healing hands are hidden within gloves of latex.
Speaking tongues shiver behind masks of fear and silence.
If all the fire in your bones cannot be trusted to consume a virus…
How real is this gospel and all you’ve been trying to tell us?
You shouldn’t need Quarantine like earth citizens if you truly live quarantined in Christ.
Alas the true tests of conviction are conducted upon sheets of crisis and
So far, you’ve aced your grades in extra curricula activities.
Architecture, interior decoration, management organization and concerts which you refer to as worshiping
But you have failed woefully your core courses.
Pure and private intimacy, prayers, meditation
Personal and genuine study, strength of conviction.
It is imperative therefore that you cut down on the celebrity razzmatazz and jamboree of showbiz.
The kingdom has nothing to do with the entanglements of stardom or the distraction of paparazzi.
So drown yourselves once again in the pure streams of intimacy.
For Only then would the salt regain its strength of seasoning
And the light, the brightness of shining.
For Creation eagerly awaits the days when the church would look death and darkness in the face and with audacious authority boldly say:
Phebe Lion is an anointed spoken word minister, singer and writer. Sound engineer at Capture Media Network and voice over personality famous for her Pieces titled ‘Godka’, The CIA amongst others. She’s also one of the poets that got featured at the #CORONAVERSES.
When the sirens went off
(in conversation with Shawn Yuan)
All ships –
while blaring their horns;
the world came to an abrupt halt;
the world was sane for a moment.
We went tomb sweeping,
We visited the graves
we burnt some spirit money
in honour of those lost to the flu-like curse,
in honour of those whose lungs folded their wings
after words lost their teeth in the city of droughts;
after the world as we knew it ended in a whimper.
A tear gathered
at the cornea of the sky’s eyes
and the heavens wept
begging the earth
In the waters that swallowed our streets
some turned the ashes
of the loved
of the betrayed
of the left alone;
and they let the empty urns sail away
into spaces beyond the eye’s reach
into the dam of memory,
into the lake of history,
into the offing of a sea filled with forbidden laughter.
Soonest Nathaniel is a Poet and spoken word artist. He is the author of “Teaching My Father How To Impregnate Women,” selected as winner of the 2017 RL Poetry Award. He was poet Laureate for 2014 Korea Nigeria Poetry Festival. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Rattle, The Pedestal Magazine, Praxis Mag, Raven Chronicles, Wiki Column, Saraba, Loudthotz, Northridge Review, Reverbnation, Elsewhere, Scintilla, Erbacce UK, Kalahari Review, Sentinel Nigeria, and Many more.