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Let’s all remember that more and more poetry gets lost without earnest attempts at translation.Read poetry here to get a glimpse of the rhythms and resonances of languages you don’t know.

Ogoni Oil & Other Poems— Bura-Bari Nwilo

Sep 30, 2022 | Poetry | 1 comment

Self-translated from the Ogoni by Bura-Bari Nwilo
Ogoni Oil 

Ogoni Oil has a name.
Its name is blood.
The blood is fiercely hot.
The blood flows like a river,
the blood of infants and adults,
of the rich and poor.

Ogoni Oil has hand and leg,
it has a family at home.
Ogoni Oil sleeps on a mat,
it is lifeless.
It has been disfigured.

Ogoni Oil has built Lagos and Abuja,
Ogoni Oil has been to the Netherlands
and has been to the United Kingdom and has spoken the English language.
Ogoni Oil has become like the wind.

When I Stare at Death

Death does not have such a frightening face.
Death takes our faces and wears them.
Death is faceless.

Death once knocked on my door,
and I was afraid.
I stared at its face and it turned its back at me.

I asked death,
‘what did you bring to my house?’
Death laughed and said it was sorry.

Death does not have such a terrible face.
Death wears our faces and scares us with it.
Death is no longer frightening.
If death does not take place, birth does not take place.


I bought chicks,
to learn to keep poultry,
to make it my means of survival.

My enemies kept an eye on the chicks,
noting that I deserve nothing good.
They wooed the hawk to pick my chicks.

Hawk that flies across the sky,
saw the chicks and put an eye on them,
like it had seen its meal.

great mother hawk,
look upon my situation and have mercy.

great mother hawk,
pick up my enemies instead,
pick them like chicks.

Morning Sun

I kneel before you
and plead with you
to look at my face,
and give me blessings
and make my tears not be in vain.

Morning sun,
burn up my troubles,
light up my enemies,
make me live in good health.
And make my face sparkle.

When I wake from sleep,
let the world look at me,
let them know you’re with me.
Let them see the great things you do for me.
Morning sun, shine on me, please.


When they kill us,
our blood drips into the ground and sprouts,
and blossoms seeds.

The blossoming seed becomes strength and charisma
that the youths carry.

When they kill us,
We become spirits,
and they cannot kill spirits.

Also, read two poems, written in Hindi by Kedarnath Singh , and translated to English by Sharmista De, published in The Antonym.

Two Hindi Poems by Kedarnath Singh

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Bura-Bari Nwilo is finishing a postgraduate degree in African Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he studied for his first degree in English Literature. He was born in the oil city of Port Harcourt but he lives in the university town of Nsukka where he writes and works remotely. His books of short stories, A Tiny Place Called Happiness, and The Colour of a Thing Believed, were shortlisted at contests by the Association of Nigerian Authors in Nigeria. Bura-Bari is an alumnus of the Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop by renowned writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

1 Comment

  1. Nket Godwin

    This is beautiful. Really Enjoyed it—the style and themes.

    If it is translated (possibly from the oral archive of the Ogoni), the elements of modern social realism seems to be prophetic—heralding the bitter experience of the Ogoni consequent to the discovery of oil in the land.


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