The Sierra Leone Web

  Elvis Gbanabom Hallowell is the author of a collection of poems, Hills of Temper. As a journalist in Freetown, he witnessed and chronicled the ten-year war which has influenced most of his poetry. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Union & Institute University, USA. The poems below are from his collection.  


When the Clouds Become Too Thick

Long prismatic legs
are seen walking down the streets
in their millions they march
noisily form end to end
with no void in any part for human steps
they bounce they pat they hit
though with no boots to call their own
they march bare feet on tarmac lanes and paths
on generations of rivers and hills in virgin forests too

These hailstones hit against leaves
and flowers that refuse to dance
to the drumming on roof tops
and empty silver tins under their noses

I hear a shegureh beat on my thatch
and a counterpoint with far away drumming
sound coming in tidal crescendo
I hear voices of children
who will never be born to this earth
they sing choruses in solo
to complete the music in my brain
and the views in my closed eyes

But just before the end
there is always this crepuscular hailstorm
echoing base voice owned by men
who once inhabited the earth when it was flat


Defining Revolution in My Country

For James O.C. Jonah

The morning sun up-turned tin god's jaygay
their eyes ran blood like okuru dogs'
filthy kasankay shamed mourners
the light had approached the end
for the rod of time gnarled to deny

The asexual growth of the morning bud
opened the psyche of innocent flowers
into which the strings of darkness sank
seeking the clairvoyant pollen of life

The red moon eve evanesce into ice-thoughts
exacerbation melting into neglect of the premonitions
as their overdue lamps burnt with no oil

Between the little and Great Scarcies
my generation sought the silence of the tin gods

The Scarcies resolve burnt the stars
spraying the ashes where sea and sky stitched
thus thickening the grey in mortality
as young babies learnt to swim the firmament

Up from the ashes of burnt day log-fires flamed
burning the faggots of children of the womb
dressed in blue jeans in the equinox of life
swimming in the sea and reading the firmament
waiting for signs in the nebulae of their future

The Joshua noon waited long for men
whose women stood as pillars of salt
when machines drank blood and hiccupped
and children sucked the breasts
of fine terra-cotta corpses
wounded dogs barked like sea waves
licking with rage very much like medusa
as tin gods hauled stones at our poets beside our poets
who tapped on discarded tins
every year we added a year to our year

An April twenty-nine revolution
is churning through the blood of our poetry
our poems and our weapons
shoot their verses into the hearts of invaders
from the Mano water

Our poems have cleared the path
unveiled the garbage of neoclassical
unhinged the empty coffins

on the day of April twenty-nine
we glided through our fathers' sperms
leaping to meet Pedro De Cintra
on the passion mount of Lyoa
urging our spent legs
into the womb of our Sierra Leone
like prodigal children seeking the Sierra of our blood


We No Longer Write Poems in Camera

No longer do we write poems in camera
with helicopters hovering over our heads
enervating the sticking fingers
of our branches which like the sierra
now stand unkempt

Illogical though we may seem
like languages falling down babel
our poems are read all over the place
from Freetown to Conakry
where the malarial mosquito expends
from Rwanda to Soweto
where black blood illustrates the future
before each of liquid
surges to fill helpless skeletons

No! it's not that we have any quarrel
only that we have known poems too have enemies
and that for this reason
they have sworn to stand enormous
renting the pages of houses we build them

We wish human skins were perchydermatous
like skins of our brothers on veranda hammocks
who now feel they are forever separated
from the verses they refuse to write
the skins of the mothers
who in secret mash formless bones
depriving the marsupial land incarnate voices
we have scribbled a dozen poems in the Sahara
all to be read in black capitals
from Dakar to Yaounde
Libreville to Kinshasa
down the uneven ribs of Kigali
from Nairobi to Monrovia
from Kampala to Mogadishu
unto the drooping shadows of Ouagadougou

A stanza for the creeping Congo
a metaphor for Mauritius
an ankle for Angola
a mail for Ivory Coast
a poet for Africa


Of Windows and Shadows

...and eventually
they lose their skins
and coexist with conformity

And their windows shall remain open
this vexing scene befits rude windows
whose shadows grow flashing teeth
sauntering deep into our wounded soul
there they stand in their dark alcoves
holding tight to their righted wrongs

From their windows they see how moments
take the shape of the desert
into which we have been condemned
even for stabbing our own hearts over oases
soul to soul we journey into our harmattan
withdrawing our hand from our bleak faces

From shadow to shadow they return to their windows
with our presence as winter in their blood
and we a terrible sight waste in our minds
rage in laughter of void from their windows
is the paradox of our hate we the light

we drew close to each other
their windows creaking
with feverish excitement our desert drenching
with rain-vows on oases brows
when they charge we curl round our light
assisting them to retreat though
to those windows
where ghosts await their return


Rejuvenate me

I have suffered the ideologies of men
while searching for corner stones
on all the mountains I know
while searching for drinking water
in all the rivers I know
in distant eyes I have seen insufficiency
stitched on the macabre looks of nightly stars
In the morning of your torment
look at your neighbor's face
it is a mausoleum with voiceless screaming scars

passing by lakes in days gone by
the man of solitude looming large in my library
whose psychedelic views we have danced into
once threw stones splashing the lake's acid
of water of prurience on every pregnant women

And so every year
new babies seek apple
even before age five we learn to flatter angels
seeking the devil's temptation
from behind the Dianthus our euphemistic mortality
we laugh at the enclosing cave

Gorgeous we march
reneging into the twentieth century
renovating the broken cisterns of Nebuchadnezzar
subversive of the painful papyrus
of the Grecian scrolls
subservient to the new goods
the wastage of our ointments

I am the paprika of the new age
in the soul of my light
was planted a pungent seed
and the Marxist sight of the sarcophagus of the God
of my father's faith
who filled my mother's womb

Naked I come
illustrious sinner
the ignominious apple in the throat
immerse me into my father's sperm
the chrism of belonging
and feed me new life
from my mother's mastoid breast


Curse God and Die

Night shadows
are beginning to shape my thought
ever since I availed my blood
to the crocodile in my Sierra Leone
where my brothers the Cervantes
have written me quixotic
in the pulsatile path of my people

These are the same brothers
I once stabbed in a dark room
where they hunger for the flesh of my sister
and I have lived in your communes
I the said Quixote now talking to you
from the dark wall of imprisonment
I have stood the suicidal ground
to fight your shapeless courses
I have cruised the peninsular thorax
through the lost horizon
to discover you a Shangri-la
where no bitter cross shall await your poetry
and what more we shall enjoy
each other's voices in the fireplace

But ah! do you now bow your heads
over your own calabashes
these brothers who plot my life
are your children
they taste of my fratricidal criticism
in their quietness
I have told you once
that I have condemned myself
to my Sierra Leone
must I burn Frantz Fanon's
The wretched of the earth
and shout above your heads in empty verses
while raging in poetry

Presently I pound the floor of my prison
between the labyrinthine network
of your life and mine
where my excreta and I have survived
the treachery of the parasites
who come to you in blood
playing the serpiginous revolution
now see where we are
what we are and who we are
didn't I caution you
while we were yet at their esophagi
these reptilian brothers of lust
waylaying us at watercourses
have begun groping into our blaze
there! where we sweated the comrade



When hot blood from soreless flesh
run down our black globular heads
pressing against our sternal valleys
sipping and cascading through
our defenseless black follicular strand
and drain into our couched palms
that we unzip the nudity
of our frontier soldiers

Fortified by banana mountains
in a kingdom where kings and subjects
sleep the livelong day
the kingdom inhales rude stilettos
buried in the haunch of monotonous wind
when smoky hearts journey worlds
worlds of silence and unknown bloodless faces
on the full strength of their proposition
to seek the sky's reflection
in the paths of dying beams
the golds of the sun turn yellow
then colorless
putting to tears the businessmen
oh creditors! oh buyers! oh customers!
in this moony economy above temporary clouds