[poetry] Pilgrim’s Progress – for Barack Obama

My poem, Pilgrim’s Progress, written in the weeks after Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential elections.

It appeared in Wasafiri’s 25th Anniversary Issue (Issue 59: Autumn 2009 | Everything to Declare)

It’s also quoted from, by Isabel Hofmeyr, to open her chapter in ‘The Cambridge Companion to Bunyan’, edited by Anne Dunan-Page.


Pilgrim’s Progress 

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. 


(c) 2009


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s