Five Stations for Various by Richard Ali


Flame Lines

Lying there, I set fire to your bed
Flame lines around you, curl heat of ink
Watch you turn your torso, see in the mirror a bird
Earth flown, goddess born, writhing, mazariyya—dragon bird!

I come to your myths with lies of my own—these
Dross of my story. You whispered in my ears once
What impels herdsmen, and I gave you a thing I stole, meaning
Of my scars—that beneath the sea another sea of sterling silver

This is our place, womb of our story, occult space, primeval
I’m your sole worshipper now, my dhikr is yours, my madness yours
Do not forget this place, Djenebu, where all is stripped of us, where
A man is man and priest and his woman, his woman, is god.


Whisper of the Wind

Whisper of wind through trees, soft
As light secreted from sun, whispering
Come and play, my love, and love. You sit alone
Your mother’s picnic basket askew, ants keeping time

Ancient dance of torsoes, shadow says, ritual
Adam and Eve knew as well as I. I follow the devil
Grasp tassels of tale, find surefire beneath—say
The earth you walk is con above a molten red sea.

This whisper is old—come and play—insistent privacy
A girl alone from adjectives, woman as noun, clothes
Unverbed. I am the old lie in the wind that lifts
Your veil, sets you down, your syllables, my name.


A Poem is a Live, Bloody Thing

When the god said let there be light, he meant
His creation to start menstruating. What is light
But what flows, cleanses, gives life? This story
Is ancient, dipped in waters the earth was formed.

Picked a twig from thin air the hermit did, shaman
Figure all my fathers, daggerspoint spirit at Juju Rock
Where all questions lead, where boys naked by the river, hear
Intonations amidst incense: and what if our god is a woman?

I’ve formed this poem in the cup of palms, drawn from old well
Of words spoken first at Eden. Endless and red my story, this
Boy born with wings i revere. A poem is a bloody thing women
Know. I kneel, torn and new, worship the vessel of my god.

At The Start of Winter

There’s no joy in the music, new aridities
Encroach, dunes overcome our palace, remnants of
Walls will be ruins underfoot. This site is nostalgia
Sands to be scapelled off, or not, as anthropologia

Were we ever happy? I am not sad. There’s a blanket
Of chill around my heart which longs still for beating
Butterfly wings and the laughter before the confidence
That laughter could be done without. Were we not happy?

I remember that day at my house in the slums
When i tilted your head in my palms, saw revealed
Neat cornrows of black silk on soft yellow scalp
Before the trick of time turned winter on us.


I see how you are, hair silky still
Greyer than a year ago. You see better now
We clink glasses when we kiss. Still this
Ember, stolen from a comet someplace, burns

Penning memories in this den of Smirnoff’s vodka
Lenovo pads, blueband and smouldering cigarettes
My dreams askew amidst your paintings, incense
And absence. Still is the song, still i write.

Still the world the moment before you turn and smile
Irrigating this city of ash so green grows anew
There’s longing in the nothing I have, finding you
Our flame is comet born, not a fire that dies.




Richard Ali @richardalijos is a lawyer, poet and author of the novel, City of Memories [Black Palms: 2012]. He is a member of the board of Uganda’s Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation and a member of the Nairobi-based Jalada Writers Collective. He co-founded Parrésia Publishers Ltd in 2012 and practices law in Abuja, Nigeria.


Photo credit: Writivism/CACE

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