The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Kenule Saro-Wiwa—Critical Poems

"When, after years of writing, I decided to take the Word to the streets to mobilize the Ogoni people and empower them to protest the devastation of their environment by Shell and their denigration and dehumanization by Nigeria's military dictators, I had no doubt where it could end."  Indeed, Saro-Wiwa was hanged to death.

The True Prison
It is not the leaking roof
Nor the singing mosquitoes
In the damp, wretched cell
It is not the clank of the key
As the warder locks you in
It is not the measly rations
Unfit for man or beast
Nor yet the emptiness of day
Dipping into the blankness of night
It is not
It is not
It is not
It is the lies that you have been drummed
Into your ears for one generation
It is the security agent running amok
Executing callous calamitous orders
In exchange for a wretched meal a day
The magistrate writing into her book
Punishment she knows is undeserved
The oral decrepitude
Mental ineptitude
The meal of dictators
Cowardice masking as obedience
Lurking in our denigrating souls
It is fear damping trousers
We dare not wash of our urine
It is this
It is this
It is this
Dear friend, turns our free world
Into a dreary prison.

A Walk in the Prison Yard
Seventy seven steps by thirty
Seventy seven steps by thirty
Seventy seven steps by thirty...
I am lonely, hungry and thirsty
Still I must walk this overgrown lawn
Carefully my way each dawn
Through the path I cut the previous day
Watching my steps as I have each day
Since I was driven here in legcuffs
By the mad major of many bluffs
Seventy seven steps by thirty
Seventy seven steps by thirty...
A long green snake glides through the green grass
I stop in my stride and let it pass
You, Private, just how many children
Do you have, and how much do you earn?
The Captain's dirty whores came last night
To see the tall anthropophagite,
Swooped like vultures on my dinner
Emptied the pot and broke the china
Master, I have got children seven
I earn but hundred nairas seven
Seventy seven steps by thirty
No wonder you're so very dirty
Your uniform is utterly grimy
Your demeanor thoroughly slimy
For extra cash my kin you did kill
The mouths of your starving brood to fill.
Seventy seven steps by thirty
Seventy seven steps by thirty...
The mad Major drove in yesterday
Picking a prostitute on the way
He spent a long time wagging his tail
In the other section of the jail
Seventy seven steps by thirty
I'd love to spank the jerk, by heaven!
No, you must not read a newspaper
Nor dare ever write on notepaper
You will not listen to radio
Lest you send word t'Ontario
You'll remain incommunicado
Which rhymes, you know, with bastinado
You need to give your fat brain a rest
It is too sharp, it outwits the best,
We don't need brains, Mister detainee,
Our streams should remain clean all season

Polluting them is clearly treason.
The land is life, for man and flora,
Fauna and all, should wear that aura,
Protected from the greed and folly
Of man and companies unholy.
And if borrow from bard Blake I might
I vow I'll not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my true
Till we have eschewed
Seventy seven steps by thirty
Seventy seven steps by thirty...
Ogoni! Ogoni!
Ogoni is the land
The people, Ogoni
The agony of trees dying
In ancestoral farmlands
Streams polluted weeping
Filth into murky rivers
It is the poisoned air
Cursing the luckless lungs
Of dying children
Ogoni is the dream
Breaking the looping chain
Around the drooping neck of a shell-shocked land.

Keep out of Prison
Keep out of prison , he wrote
Don't get arrested anymore
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
Punishable by a term in prison.