Chiswick Confined – My Corona Blog LXX

Day 78 – Wednesday 10th June 2020


“In the broken places, the light shines through.”

Leonard Cohen


Niyi Osundare is a Nigerian poet, dramatist and social commentator who it has been my great privilege to meet in Lagos. At the time he was teaching at New Orleans University and had just come over for the launch of a collection of his columns from the magazine Newswatch. Just after he returned to the US Hurricane Katrina hit the city and he and his wife had to seek refuge in their attic and were only rescued through a hole in the roof after more than 24 hours. He lost all his manuscripts and research papers in the flood. I believe he is currently teaching in New Hampshire. We actually met when I was asked to give the Review of that collection and it was this that gave me an opportunity to learn about Uncle Niyi’s work.

Yoruba is a phonetic language – the meaning is in the sound and it makes for musical poetry. Osundare’s poetry, even in English where he often uses Yoruba words and phrases is musical and the sound and pattern of the words is part and parcel of the meaning. One of his collections is actually called ‘The Word is an Egg’, which kind of sums up the potential that exists in language for me while at the same time reminding that it is fragile and easily mistaken/broken. In fact in another collection “Songs of the market Place”, he explains explicitly what he believes poetry is :-


Poetry is


not the esoteric whisper

of an excluding tongue

not a claptrap

for a wondering audience

not a learned quizen

tombed in Grecoroman lore


Poetry is


A lifespring

which gathers timbre

the more throats it plucks

harbinger of action

he more minds it stirs


poetry is


the hawker’s ditty

the eloquence of the gong

the lyric of the marketplace

the luminous ray

on the grass’s morning dew


poetry is


what the soft wind

musics to the dancing leaf

what the sole tells the dusty path

what the bee hums to the alluring nectar

what rainfall croons to the lowering eaves

(“Poetry is” Excerpts)


Yet there is more to Niyi Osundare than this reference to the musical quality of his verse. There is anger and a strong voice against oppression. In fact, in my review of his collection of essays “Dialogue With My Country” I wrote:

“The quiet rage may be contained in a wrapper of humour and softened by the style and pedigree of his prose but Osundare is true to his belief that the basis of all art is justice.”


So, although I did refer to the poem he has just released to support Black Lives Matter, I feel constrained to Blog it, in its entirety.


“I Can’t Breathe (Episodic Variations on the Ripples of a primal Scream)”


I can’t breathe

   I can’t breathe

     I can’t bre

       I can’t

         I can’t    



2020: Black Lives Matter

1965: I AM A MAN


There are countless ways

Of lynching without a rope


The casualties were fewer than we ever expected:

     10 Persons


     1,000 Negroes


For every Black in college

There are a hundred more in prison


So many centuries on,

America still has a “Negro Problem”


My skin is my sin,

Sings Bluesman with the wailing strings,

My very life is an “underlying condition”

For countless afflictions


And the Media Sage responds:

Racism is America’s Original Sin

Violence, its inalienable companion


There is a common crime in town:

Breathing While Black (BWB)   


Mr. George Floyd committed two cardinal crimes:

He was Black

He was big


Black Lives Matter

Black Life Martyrs


Asked Louis Armstrong, the Smiling Trumpetman:

What did I do to be so black and blue?


Black Life Martyrs,

Their voices rise from their untimely graves:

Amadu Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray,  Botham Jean, Breanna Taylor, Philando Castille, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud  Arbery,  George Floyd. . . . .

Any Hall of Fame

For Trophies from Police hunts?


To be and not to be

To wallow in want in a sea of wealth

To shout and not be heard

To stand and not be seen

To sow and never to reap

To live all your life below the Law

To be stopped and frisked stopped and frisked stopped and frisked stopped and. . . . . 

To be told countless times

To forgive and then forget


Yess Sur, Yes Maa’m. . . . 

Put them at ease with your Negro smile

Your low, low, bow and your high regard

That cool façade is your saving grace

The “Angry Black Man” is as good as dead


911, 911,  911, 911

My name is Sue, 

Calling from my car in City Park

There’s a big black male around

Whose big dark shadow is menace to my sight 

Please send a cop; my life is at risk


Choke-hold, choke-hold

Stranglehold and dash and dangle

400 years of knee-on-neck


Our Police know their oath:

To serve


To protect


The Police Chief took a knee

The Sheriff followed in tow 

Is this a genuine genuflection 

To Kaepernick’s treason

Or patronizing bribe of momentary appeasement?


And the Emperor snarls 

From the bunker of his White Castle

Vowing “vicious dogs and ominous weapons”

Rolling in guns to “dominate the streets” 

His unhappy nation now his “battlespace”


Black Lives Matter

Black Life Martyrs


Asked Louis Armstrong, the smiling Trumpetman:

What did I do to be so black and blue?


I can’t breathe

   I can’t breathe

    I can’t bre. . . . .




With Respect and Acknowledgements to Kola Tubosun with apologies for not being able to supply the correct phonetic symbols to spell his name correctly in his native tongue. I ripped the poem from his Blog.          You can also read more about Kola and his work here


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This