In the Quiet House.
"You live in a quiet house, so quiet no one imagines somebody inside." Quietness is the name of the mask I wear to pass a troubled country. Civil war is fought here and opposing parties hold meetings that fail to resolve differences, jealous rage prevails among rivals in the harem and sometimes the police break in to restore order. I live in a quiet house, you say. Outsiders envy the calm in the Oba's palace. I am always singing to one in a distance and I cannot stifle Mami Wata's tantrums. I live in a quiet house, you say. The crossroads of humans and spirits, you can imagine the relentless traffic that walls keep from reaching outside. The computer is here the telephone here I chat night and day with faceless friends news slip in of missiles crashing into a small country the radio keeps me current with robberies and murders. I live in a quiet house, you say. Don't you hear birds celebrating around with songs? My windows open to the quarter of town where the blacksmiths work at all times. Unemployed graduates contemplating suicide retrenched workers up to the neck in debts live here. Can a thunderstorm be quiet on its path; can a fire-belching volcano be quiet? I live in a quiet house, you say; but so quiet that you, music-lover, are my perfect guest! Can this house be quiet as you say when daily I dream out loud in songs?
Charlotte, North Carolina
Nigerian-born author TANURE OJAIDE currently teaches at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has published a dozen collections of poems; his latest include In the Kingdom of Songs (2001) and I Want to Dance and Other Poems (2003). He has won, among other awards, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Africa region (1987), the All-Africa Okigbo Prize for Poetry (1988, 1994), and the Association of Nigerian Authors' Poetry Award (1988, 1997). "In the Quiet House" will appear in the verse collection In the House of Words, due to be published by Malthouse Press, Lagos, in 2004.