4056709816_836058177f_oSouth Africa knows. Never let the poet
See the face of love. Never let the poet walk
Upon the landscapes of love. Alone.
Unguarded. Never let the poet walk
By the side of love in a mall. Do not let the poet
Witness the plum fingers of love using chopsticks
To eat Sushi in a Japanese shop.
Never let the poet hear the voice of Love.

The poet says: This music speaks to the soul.
And Love says: It speaks to the body and not the soul.

South Africa knows. Do not let the poet
Engage in soul-searching with Love.
The poet says: Let us look into each other’s eyes.
Love tells the poet: I see kindness,
I see a heart of gold. The poet stares
Into the green eyes of Love. And the poet says:
I see light. And Love responds:
I see tongues of flames burning my eyes.
The poet says: I can’t see through your soul.
Love says: Why? The poet says: Are you my mystic guide?
And Love responds: I don’t know.

And when the poet returns to the cubicle,
The tiny cubicle where he is king.
He locks the door. He takes the brown metal key,
He flings it out through the window, it scares a hawk.
He spends 29 days, without a bath, food or drink,
Except a sip or two from the alcohol of time.

The poet grows dreadlocks. He stinks.
He scatters books and paper, pen and ink.
He chews parts of books: Collins’s The Trouble with Poetry.
Ginsberg’s Howl and Felinghetti’s little book of poetic wisdom.
Martin’s The Republic of Poetry he ate in whole.
He re-wrote ‘A Stone Hammered to Gravel’,
A poem for Dennis Brutus and swallowed it a thousand times.

South Africa knows. When a poet eats a poem,
The time is up, if in doubt ask Dennis Brutus,
He was a poet of words. He ate poems while contemplating
The alchemy of words. If still in doubt ask Madiba,
He was a poet of stones. He consumed gravels
While contemplating the sanctity of dust.

And before the cries, before the howl.
Before the ambulance came, took him away
And dumped him in a solitary cell. Before
A hard faced policeman, with a brutal nose stamped hard
And scribbled on a brown envelope: The Poet is Mad.
Long, long before the poet began to see
The reflection of love on walls, on trees, in pens,
In mugs of coffee, in his transparent veins, in
The yellow brown blood he vomits, in the
Ear-cracking rustle of leaves…

Long before Love appeared, disheveled,
The hair loosened, glowing and flowing down on shoulders
Like that of the white mare of paradise.
The silver nose as straight as truth, bearing the innocence
Of the stars. The eyes burning with the fire of fire.
Love appeared before the Madhouse Keeper
Demanding in crystalline silence: Let the poet be.
I am the baby cobra hatchlings wriggling in his brain.

Long before he was thrown out of the Madhouse
They, the poet and Love, sat on a cliff overlooking a mountain
And Love says let us go soul searching.
They stare into each other’s eyes.
What do you see? The poet says: Light.
What do you see? Love says: You.
Love hugged the poet and whispered:
Are you my spiritual guide? The poet says: Yes.

Then let us go, Love says,
Let us go discover the magic of the orient.
Let us discover the secret of the pyramids,
Let us roam the country side of Shanghai,
Let’s go to the Vatican and contemplate the paintings
On the Sistine Chapel. Let us go to Konya and whirl
Over the tomb of Rumi, may be we will have a vision
Of Shams of Tabris on the plains or
In an epiphany of light in our dreams.

Let us roam the markets of Samarkand
Hunting for white eyed virgins covered in Burkha,
Maidens of light, bearers of the tales of love.
Let us trudge the domes of Damascus
And peer through the telescopes of Khayyam,
Maybe we will see rogue planets wandering in the evening sky,
Maybe we will see the silver beard of the Old Man
Of the Mountain. Maybe we will see the white frocks of
Dervishes whirling freely in unison, entangled
In the remembrance of the Divine.

Let us wander through the deserts
On camel backs, the sun will tell us tales
In the voice of springs and oasis:
Once upon a time,
The greatest poet of Arabia, happened upon the face
Of Layla in a magic mirror, he fell in love and
Became Majnoon (the possessed).
Let us stroll through the busy streets of Dakar
Searching for mysterious dwarfs and willing peddlers
Of ancient relics; a jar of jade the home of an infant djinn,
The Albino hunchback who sells clay tickets
For a dinner at the square; this, in reality is a meeting
Of free loving spirits, where everyone is served
A piece of an elephant’s ear garnished in lemon.
The curry of course is made of Leopold Senghor’s book of poems.

And when Love and the poet emerge out of the chasms of dream
Love shakes the poet and tells the poet: Sing.
And the poet says: How?
Love tells the poet: Sing in light
And the poet says: Why?
Love tells the poet: Sing for love.
And the poet says: Soul, Soul, Soul,
Love is the conqueror of Soul.

(For Nana and the angels Mapule Mathebakase and Bertha Ramashija)


Image by Hartwig HKD via Flickr

About the Author

Umar Abubakar Sidi lives in Lagos. Sidi’s poetry chapbook titled Poet of Sands is available for free digital download HERE.


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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

10 Responses to “Soul Song or South Africa Knows | By Umar Abubakar Sidi | African Poetry” Subscribe

  1. Pearl Osibu 2015/03/11 at 02:27 #

    This is one of my best poems ever. And almost all my best poems are by Sidi. This one especially does my head.in.

  2. Richie Maccs 2015/03/11 at 05:04 #

    One of the very best poems I have ever read. And this? Thank you Umar Sidi. Truly a poet of the sand.

  3. eduard ochieng 2015/03/11 at 09:01 #

    mad big up sidi

  4. Sada Malumfashi 2015/03/11 at 10:54 #

    Brilliant, epic, and transcends within and beyond the sahara. Its a magical adventure

  5. Saddiq Dzukogi 2015/03/11 at 11:43 #

    This is insane beauty!!!

  6. Yakubu Babangida 2015/03/12 at 01:52 #

    This poem is it self an ancient wonder, one that tells the entire story of time. If you are ever privileged to visit the hall of fame, your will see this extraordinary painting, a portrait called the journey guide through time. The writer aside being talented, is an Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a grand manifesto in the verse knowledge of time and space.

  7. JM Schreiber 2015/03/13 at 13:24 #

    Awesome. Thank you for sharing this!

  8. Carl Terver 2015/03/20 at 11:21 #

    I did take my time to read even though I’m a little averted to lengthy poems. But this was a sweet trip. Lovely.

  9. Kwaghhange Aondoaseer Samson 2015/03/23 at 04:36 #

    Sidi this is awesome

  10. Abayol peter 2015/03/26 at 17:35 #

    This poem is the full definition of the trouble with poetry, it take one on a voyage, penetrating into the metaphysical realm, and pollinates the language of ink to mate with rain. Well done sir!

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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