My poem, Pilgrim’s Progress, written in the weeks after Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential elections.
It’s also quoted from, by Isabel Hofmeyr, to open her chapter in ‘The Cambridge Companion to Bunyan’, edited by Anne Dunan-Page.
By Tolu Ogunlesi
On one side, an army of voluble Blackberrys,
Translating King into textese; on the other
A Klan of epithet dealers, sitting tauntingly
On electric mules. Stretched out around them,
A United Nations of graves and grave histories, watchful.
Above, frames floating, studded with names
Of members of an all-white dream team, possessors
Of star-spangled genes. A mist, a burst
Of bleak breath, rises, to dispossess a people
Of their dreams. Into this carnival will walk
A newborn, newly stranded
On the shores of this wreck-laden river.
Into this mist that roughly massages memory.
He will not be one of them. Nor one of us.
He will simply be the sepia-toned pilgrim who sailed
In, by dawn’s early light, aboard a paper boat
With a smudged name. His companions a straw hat, dust-flecked
Overalls, and a bale of cotton, wounded with tears.
None of these will belong to him. The only things he will own
Will be a funny name, tattooed onto a skinny frame;
The dust on his feet, passport of a pilgrim’s progress;
And a Blackberry. He will be naked, to be clothed
By all who see or hear of him.
In his open mouth, we shall catch a glimpse of all
The tomorrows that hold their seeds but no longer
Their yellowed deeds; all the coming days
That hold their breath, but no longer their weary debt.