SONG OF YOBE
Introit: In the Physics Lab
Fire. We flinch, then close in on the light.
A Bunsen burner transmogrifies air
into flickering tongues of indigo air.
We watch in curious commotion
as copper sulphate flares into
a bright blaze of turquoise.
Fire. We come to learn how compressed air
powers the engine, how pressure does work.
We come to prove our candlelit diligence.
Our memories are sharpened by flame.
What we know cannot be countered –
thermodynamics, conserved energy, inertia, force.
Open the gates and examine us.
Let us silence those city bureaucrats who say
we cannot learn by firelight.
Tomorrow we do our part, wielding our nibbled pens
for the principle of uncertainty.
Our heads are clear, our minds made up.
Antiphon: In Sambiza Forest
Fire, we smelled it before we heard it,
a slosh of petrol on dusty soil.
We had studied the conversion of
chemical energy into light. Too slow
to run, we were clutched in flame, then fired upon.
We wasted their bullets, already charred.
Ashen, we watched our mad sister leap
from the lorry and limp into the dead
of night. Her sober sisters lived in a forest,
cooking, and praying, and praying again.
Spirit-sighted we saw their return, nursing the
horror of these months on their breasts, fired,
fired with an impossible love.
Look, it is us, we twenty-nine boys
who went up in flames, in Yobe.
Remember us, remember us. Water
our memory with your tears.
Water. Water. O give us water.
Poet's Note: In this poem I draw on my memories of studying for A-level physics at Arundel, a Harare secondary school for girls, to try and imagine the terrors young scholars in Nigeria have faced at the hands of Boko Haram. To be Zimbabwean necessarily means to be African, and as the ancient author Terence of Africa writes, "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", or "I am a human, and I think nothing human is alien to me."