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Robin S. Ngangom


Hill, you and I have seen
only upheaval since our birth.
When I was torn from the universal womb
I echoed your silent cry.

You have been carved by time as I am.
From your forests grow flutes
oracular drums and nymphs.
The ancient ones still speak of the time
when the gods, tired of the heavens
descended to earth, and with sensual fingers
and primeval clay, moulded your torso and breasts.
They also scooped the clouds
and poured them over cliffs
to fashion your silver hair.

With subterranean instincts
you have seen habitations, and
generations of children come and go.
When you descend in green bends to the townfolk
you bring garments of fog, rural baskets
of mushrooms, wildflowers and birds.
Until one day I died and took new birth
in your legendary woods.

During the festive season
when the cold gathers holly leaves, and
lips of boys and girls meet again in benison
I was lonely with you but heard your voices:
horns in the distance and maidens
and wild horses whinnying.

Hill, you have preserved from decay
hearts like mine,
faltering forward in absurd death.
And it should be.
Clouds come home when they find you.


A writer can survive without a car
but a window with his palm
feeling the breath of a street
or a garden, a few weeping pens
and clean sheets are indispensables.
He can live with the moon
as his eastern neighbour or with pines,
cantankerous mynahs or even factories.
As of now freedom of expression
would mean for him
expression of freedom.
For example, the word 'clitoris'
would be as exhilarating as uttering:
"the revolution is a farce."
He would have continued:
"The ophthalmic optician
shut down his clinic
after far-sighted revolutionaries
came for a free checkup."
But that wouldn't sound aesthetic
even though it's the truth.
He hates himself for having to utter
the ugly things and even his
bold words would seem prudish
in free worlds.
This is what clings to him
even in exile,
the reality about freedom
which led to his exile.
He would have pursued
the more beautiful words,
skies, dances, images, discourse,
trees, nudes, illumination,
if he possessed the gift
of being free

The Ignominy Of Geometry

The ignominy of geometry,
the inability to evade angles and parallels.
Living, we have to suffer that mortification
which robs the sacrifice of joy
much of its sheen.

One minute of patronizing certainty
and the boring man is a ‘square’
but when our understanding’s poor
someone’s off on a tangent,
and that dark excitement we all secretly envy
is an eternal triangle,
or, when two people cannot agree (naturally)
they are diametrically opposed,
bowing again to geometry,
a language of precision
to measure our imprecise lives.

We were given a white emptiness
and left to our devices. Wanting more from life than
mere life
we tried to fill that emptiness with lush pigments,
beauty, purpose, a finishing touch of children.
We went looking for subjects in time and space
creating moments under cherry-trees, lifting glasses
to youth,
but merely fulfilled the oracle of repetition
and then we speak of a wheel coming full circle.
The ignominy of geometry,
the inability to see beyond centres and triangles.

Even my love was flesh and blood
because I had put my mouth on her lips
but good fortune abandoned us
and we became two tiny points of light
on that white emptiness
drawing unhappy parallel lines.

Funerals And Marriages

I’ve stopped going to funerals and marriages.
Any public demonstration of grief or joy unnerves me.
Solemnity withers me and I hate being genteel with a
pinstripe and noose around my neck. It is not that
I’ve forgotten acts of kindness or to wish
people happiness if they can find it anywhere. I
would, if I could, help the bereaved furtively after
the mourners have eaten and left. I have become truly

I don’t know why anyone would like to be
comforted by anybody except people they love
selfishly. You only need hugs and kisses from people
you’ve known intimately, people from whom you
can exact a price. I cannot be comforted, except by
the woman I love illicitly.

I often wonder about the efficacy of marriages and
funerals. Could it be because others are as worried,
as I was during my own wedding feast that my friends
and guests would not show up for some strange reason?
As regards funerals, I know that if the house of the
dead cannot keep a demonic hold on me my absence will
really not make any difference. But I do not want to
be censored for not attending marriages or funerals. I
wish people would not invite me to weddings or bring
news of an old acquaintance’s death. If I could
I wouldn’t attend even my own funeral.

I remember the day I returned home, and without even
seeing my father I went to my aunt’s house when
I heard my cousin had died during my long absence. I
tried to match my aunt’s grief by trying to show
some tears in my eyes but only ended up sniffing like
a dog. After that, my cousin’s sister, my other
lovely cousin, in whose body I first sang a liquid
tune with my tender mouth, gave me pineapple to eat
and we smiled at each other. I used to dip my hands
into her blooming breasts, a pair of frightened
pigeons. But later, my dead cousin appeared in my
dreams to play and protect me again as he did during
our childhood. He took a long a time to go away and I
had to spit three times to be sure that he
doesn’t haunt me.

I remember this film about slum-dwellers in Bombay and
how after the tears and the burning they would bring
out their bottles of orange liquor and get drunk and
have a real ball. That’s one funeral I would
like to attend.

Primary Schools

I remember only the detritus of schools
which taught fear,
where only nuns seemed to believe
in the power of the written word and punishment.
There was a boy in the middle of it all
who once forged his father’s signature
in order to dodge a maths test
and spent the whole day in a World War II cemetery
sleeping between roses and epitaphs.
The intimidation of books from Glasgow
made him steal small notes and coins from his father
which admitted him to a mystic circle
of titbits, cannabis, and adult tales
far away from pink rooms and uniform handwriting
or ‘eena meena maina mo’ by rote
after clambering walls that grow glass-creepers
to the freedom of cork trees and frogs and egrets,
a stinking marshy world of catapults and running noses
which grappled with black polished shoes
and moral science, to return home
on cloudy evenings brewing storm-fuelled nights
exiled on a reed mat and only a hurricane lamp
with slate, chalk, and as the years grew up
inkwell and bamboo-pulp paper
were the keepsakes of his childhood.
There were mosquito storms and
cool dirt floors polished with cowdung and clay,
ruined walls and lizard myrtles and moss
which reminded elders of neglect
near a big water tank left behind by British soldiers
where vipers came to drink, and
gaudy walls of goddesses.

I can see the naïve boy
who couldn’t read the dirty word
spelt on the ground by his older friends
in the calligraphy of randy boyhood,
and, later, obsessed with that moist idea
explored his girl cousins fervently.

There were long delightful, convalescent afternoons
of illustrated classics without
the stress of the school bus when he heard
only the sleepy clang of hammers
in the nearby smithy, when life burnt slowly
like calories even when he was sleeping,
without the solemnity of anyone’s life
coming to an end.


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