Skip to Main Content

Professor Menkiti's Poems

Dealey Plaza

After this event, the nation's leaders assembled;

the horns offered their announcements,
then the woodwinds came;
but there were other winds

I am talking of that November day--
the motorcade in Dallas:

in Dealey Plaza;
the casing from a single bullet,
not two casings from two
Will we ever be done
              with our referencing?

And while we were still on this matter
of the events back then in '63
he took time out to remind us all

that a scalawag eats
too many scallions

to be a respectable gentleman

that there was
a town named Bugtussle
in southeastern Oklahoma

that the speaker Carl Albert
he was the one who came from Bugtussle

the pound. the dollar.
the deutsch mark. the franc.

that a great power is only as great
as the cash flow it is able
to generate on the world stage

that although the economy
is not the reason for everything,
everything rides of falls with it

which is the reason why the West

must be alert always

lest it become like a rinky
dink third world country
on its way to nowhere

And if one day
those that serve
inherit the earth
on which sits
the king's stool

and those whom they served
stand outside the gate
asking to be let in -

is the wheel of justice then
set on the right path?
or is the wheel of justice set
to be once more broken?

that the spirits fear the nozzle
of a gun - that not even God
can help them if the bullets
go bang bang in the night;


An undancerly sea which created
an unfavorable tide, so that the ships
could not pull anchor nor come in,
after the anchor has been pulled;

then after the observation another
concerning the body
of Twyla Tharp the skinny,
the body of dance which does not need
flesh to propel it forward

but that was then, not now --
for with sin restrained
and grace in place,
should not all current
understanding be seen
as secured like a peg
                 in a sure spot? --

how a ceertain Wu Wei, Chairman
of the Standing Committee of
the Brave of Heart to Uphold
the Verdicts, how Wu Wei
whose mother, a neice of
the Great Helmsman, brooding 
upon a day
by the banks of the Yangtze River --

that ths matter of history, and
of the songs which the nations sing

but then before the nations sang their songs
he made note of all them girls from Cape Cod;
and the girls from Cape Cod, do they not
                               eat salt fish for breakfast?
and Massachusetts, is it not 
the smartest state in America"

not, of course, to mention Nebraska,
Nebraska, where there is so much corn
one could feed
               the whole of China with it

the transposition of modalities
n which all there is in the world
is not to be torn apart
from the way in which
all things appear in the world --

how a well known logician
from one of the more famous
universities in England
saw fit to make note
that if sex is good for the liver
then it must be the case
that iver is good for se

the delight of conversation

              when the tongue is loose
              and the stomach is full
                              but not too ful

potluck, the luck in the pot;
or is it the pot
               that's in luck?

to recognize God in pots and pans
in the chopping of celery sticks

a man & a woman, they were
making serious talk
                 by the entry way



A male chauvinist pig
from the upper West Side
of Manhattan who thought
that mayhem comes from a May

who hems, who haws,
when she is cracked
over the knuckles
by her overlord, her own
                dear husband

that those who eercise
their God-given right
need not worry when
their wives scream & hol

and as for that story about Lady Godiva
riding bare butt across England
that, he continued to say,
was a silly story planted
by a bunch of American feminists,
nay, feminazis, unable
to understand the way the world is

where Wild Bill Hitchcock
& Calamity Jane lie buried together

O, which calamity has Jane
not been heir to?
which man among you
has not been lashed
               by her whippings

An eight hundred pound
gorilla in the room
and his name is Gorilla;
he does not know
who his father is;
that is why
they call him Gorilla;
and that is why
the ladies run each time
he enters the room

Dr. of Mundane Letters
whose mandate
was to modify
and without
whose modification
we are utterly lost

such a Doctor
were he found working
in a damp bassement
with goo running
down his nose
his friends would surely find him
utterly lacking-lacking
              in what it takes

that when the serotonin
is in a reuptake mood
and you smack it 
with an inhibitor,
the serotonin, it falls
in line and gives up
most of its wayward ways;
and this applies to rich
               and to poor alike

so that all people, despite gender
age, race, and arbuncle, must
be considered equal in the eyes
                of the nation's laws

that race, if it were not included
then, surely, the fellow Crispus Attucks
would have merely died in vain
dumping the King's tea into Boston Harbor

how in Tuskegee upon a day
they let the spirochetes
waste the manhood of many
to the very end of their days--

the parched earth of Alabam
and the red one of Georgia

the delta there in Mississippi
Itta Bena, which is far away



How the only kind of mistake
great men make
are greater mistakes

a man undone by the tricks
that he had done;

Not a man undone by kindness

the said Me. Nixon - a
son of Yorba Linda

and if it be the claim
that most people in California
do have a sunshine disposition
then how is it possible
to explain the mischief
associated with him
the thirty-seventh President
of the United States?

the wine expanse of Sonoma County
& Napa Valley not far away?


They Will Rise

.[Never read at the Boston Meeting]

The land of the rising sun
has now become
the land of the rising yen
& the Nikkei 225, soon it will
overtake the Dow Jones

that there is, in this matter
some lesson for all of Africa--

A sign on the road to Lagos:
"Mosquitoes kill; kill mosquitoes
before they kill you"

a premium quality lager beer,
the Star - no one can outdo
Nigeria when it comes to beer

and if one were to say to God:
I already made an offering to you
yesterday, so I do not have 
to offer again today
               how would one feel
               were God to say:
                           I already fed
                           you yesterday,
                           therefore today
                           you are
                           on your own
                           and tomorrow, too?

capital accumulation, how like kerosene
it fuels the expansion
of the inflated belly
of the middle class;

for a class without a middle
it has no resting place
for its dumplings;

the cardiovascular effects
of coffee brewed in a clay pot;
that the problem is not
the caffeine as such

but the chemistry of the clay from Africa

a land so without hope
the natives can't even die straight
like everyone else in the world

and mass society addicted
to the smell of its own crap
& Jeremiah in the wilderness

how a tribal chief once fell in love
              with Queen Elizabeth

how Elizabeth did not 
             return the interest

how in London it is now possible
to dance merengue in Trafalgar Square

chipmunk music has got them by the tail
& the rest it will get by the toe bone--

women who argue over nonsense
whose life is given over to quarrel
for whom the Holy Ghost weeps
                                     in heaven

the father of lasagna
but not its mother

how the Super Eagles
if they win

we shall take over
the Italian Peninsula

how anyone who says
that Mussolini
was not a bastard
deserves to be fed
to a big rat
swimming out
of the Tiber River--

the body of Europe
but an elongation
of the body of Africa

and you talk of ancestors
and I say: Lucy is
up there in heaven
smiling at all of us

that this business of the mitochondria,
it is not a tale by an old wife;
and the talk about a deoxy
in a ribonucleic merger,
how can it be about an acid
when it has juju written
                             all over it?

some deep mystery sprung
from the soil of this Africa

& the mystery is not yet done--

how such a knowledge, it belongs
to a class of things not written down;

which it would make no sense
to write down;

the elders, did they not say
that there are things, a da na
ede ede na akwukwo?

things that shall break the scribe's pen
should the scribe insist
on writing them down?

that when we are born
there comes a time
when we see the end
of our earthly days

but that ome among us
when they die
they appear to be
               merely asleep

hence the meaning of that song:

mmuo-oma m'lolu n'obu ula
a maro-m n'obu onwu --

angel that you thought was asleep
not knowing it was death


Of Nwolu the town crier
his voice in full throttle
the Ofla in mid stride;
& asked the assembled crowd,
the dignitaries assembled,
to think about it - to think
what might have been
the tragedy of his life
had he not been born
               an Onitsha man

Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe
Agba-ogidi, Eze anyi,
21st occupant
of the throne of our fathers

may the rain bring its blessings
may it wash away
the bad things from our common air

to lead you and lead me
to the clearing
so that we might hear again
what songs our fathers sang

mmili yilu enyi ka mbe
na awalu ogodo

the tortoise so full of pride he thought
of challenging the great flood,
of wrestling down the great river,
the very same river that swept
                away the elephant

to pull down one's vanity
so that others might their vanity pull

and then later, much later,
on the road from Onitsha to Lagos
a sign carved out in bold letters
announcing the entrance
to the Divine Military Church

announcing marksmanship
for the elect of God


So a man sees a bird flying
and the man asks: why

cannot I fly?

the man is not crazy
for asking that question

funny thing about the world
is the world is full of questions

the answers to which
can only be found

in the mind of heaven's God;

and, of course, that a bird can fly
but also walk

and we can walk but not fly

does not mean that God loves
the birds more than God loves us--

how the seas rise and then fall
ho the mountains move up & down

the yellow elder; the love vine;
the bougainvillea hugging the fence
& then a sermon to this effect
that it is not possible to take
any of this with us to the grave

which this or that is not
my problem dear reader
by yours - yours to resolve
or to leave unresolved--

To sleep the sleep
of the just,
with peace a soft
pillow under the head

that those who a good deed offer
shall reap three times over
the good deed they offer

that, likewise, those who sow hatred
shall surely reap the hatred
which their hardness of heart has sown

the vision of God in heaven
of the devil below the earth

some darkie that died
ith a hammer in his hand
Lawd, Lawd, hear his cry

that only the dead know
which way is south
which south is south
of the kingdom

and the kingdom, it is not
the one that is over there;

it is the one which is over here
by the banks of this Great River



The arc, triumphant,
of the moral universe;

likewise to consider
the history of salvation;

for the history of salvation
has got you and got me

by the neck;

and there is not getting
out of its salvific hold --

whether the hill country
of Judea be home,

or Onitsha be home;

to summon, then, a nation
you knew not,
so that nations
shall run to you
                that knew you not;

the fellow Iaiah,
making note that all
would be all right with the world

to attempt, therefore, in this action
to shut out the world's noise
and by a novena of days
to receive the grace that was due;

and if it is not an accident
that Rome came to put an end
to the brutish ways of Britons
and that Britain later came
to put and end
to the British ways of Africans

then where in the mind
of the Zeitgeist
is it spelled out
               that it will be?

and history, imagine its ironies:
imagine the insolence of Rome
comparing a Brit to a brute

that if it be the case
that a scalawag is one such
as eats too many scallions
to be a respectable gentleman

then keep his presence away 
from the center of London
where tall buildings
               brace the wind--

duty that was faithful
& service that never wearied

thus to say to England
over Lambeth Bridge
and along the south bank of the Thames
that although the queen mother is dead
the throne of England
will be forever secure
and the sun over God's earth
will never, ever, set on it


How the reed dance among the Zulus
if it is danced in the new South Africa
or danced in what was old South Africa

the reed dance with homage paid
to the king not to the king's cousin

how such was the rift between
Zwelithini and Buthelezi, between
Goodwill and Mangosuthu...

& if the reeds fall down
                              and are broken
the state, if it falls, what dance
will attend to its passing?

the bearing of all peoples
the lay of their lands--

to put ear
to the singing rocks
to hear, perhaps to know

What might be the source of it all,
the tribulations, but also the grace

grace that has been brought into action
in the middle of turnings
each of which was averse
to grace and its reach

the voice, then, of Ireland
the voice of Jeannie McVeigh

Oterrible mystery
this day proclaimed

Disturb my spirit now
and after give me rest