The Speech That Didn’t Happen. The Win!

Reader Dear,

I thought you might have learnt somewhere, but might still want me too to tell you about the 2018 Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize and how it was won by a certain Sheilla Nelson. Or an Aisha Nelson.

I am the same, the said Nelson – whether Sheilla or Aisha, whether Aishetu or Aisha. (One day I will talk about my name(s) properly, fully.)

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Picture mine: A copy of the unpublished anthology I submitted for the prize.

Bits and bigger about the biennial prize are known: from the earlier official announcement in 2018, from related social media posts  by various people including my Facebook post days after the awards ceremony, and from a blog post by James Murua.

In a later Facebook post related to a stage adaptation of Osiris Rising, I will mention how the novel’s writer, Onukpa Ayi Kwei Armah, inspired – and more – the titular short story of  my unpublished anthology, Lens and Other Stories

This is the work I submitted for the prize – a soft-bound book. A manuscript.

Perhaps, the only new thing about the 2018 (Fiction) edition of the Prize was that its awards ceremony was grafted into the Academic Directorate of the University of Ghana’s second day of what has come to be called “Vice Chancellor’s Ceremony in Honour of Academic Award Winners” – for the 2017/2018 Academic Year. This awards ceremony is done on two consecutive days, usually a Thursday and Friday, for the Sciences and Humanities respectively. I received the prize on the second day, it being administered by the Department of English, which is a part of the Faculty of Humanities.

All of this arrangement, it was unlike the maiden/2016 (Poetry) edition of the prize, which was held as a separate and full event at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra. This edition was won by one Sarpong Kumankoma (Agyei Sarpong Amos).

The rest of the details of the edition for which I was adjudged winner? Nothing so new. Everything quite personal:

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Picture mine: The brochure for day 1 (Sciences) and day 2 (Humanities) of the awards ceremony.

1.   Like how I had been at The Balme Library and other places on the University of Ghana campus quite more than a few times to put finishing touches on and to print the manuscript – per the submission requirements – and finally, to submit the package at said Department of English.

And how months later, the next year, I got a WhatsApp message one afternoon (when I was still not fully peeled from the hold of a nap) to come pick up a letter and sign my acceptance of the prize and of attending the awards ceremony at the Great Hall of same university.

Dates include July 4 and 17, 2018; and February 22 and March 1, 2019.

2.   How I was joined by my long time and academic friend Agnes Quansah, my friend and writer friend Agnes Gyening, and my past-student-turned-friend Vanessa Aduama, for the awards night.

3.   The surprise but understandable story about how Sheilla Nelson came to be the name on the award certificate, even though I had submitted for the prize as Aisha Nelson.

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Picture mine: The prize certificate given me.

(I have already said to tell the story about my name(s) later, remember?)

4.   How earlier versions of more than half of the 10 short stories in Lens and Other Stories have been variously and previously published and sometimes, re-published here at Nu kɛ Hulu (Water and Sun) .

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Picture mine: The outfit I nearly wore for the awards night.

5.   The funny little story about how I came to decide what to wear for the awards night and the later funnier story about how I put away that beautiful red dress (something decidedly unconventional, stylishly formal, and girlishly diva) and settled on what I ended up wearing (something shyly conventional and formal, something accidentally mature and chic).

How in the end, it all turned out to be a hearty, event-full and love-filled evening which could neither be undone nor even touched by the rains that poured, and by the fact that my three friends were meeting each other for the first time, me being the mutual one…

6.   The speech I had written a day before the awards night, in ready, in case I am asked to give any. Because that should be expected. The poem, I had added to the speech, in case I am asked to do a reading of (some or any of) my writing. Also.

Choosing a poem and not anything prose – prose, which would have been in perfect keeping with the genre of that year’s edition of the prize. Choosing, again, a poem because of its typical brevity, its more organic, self-contained qualities. And choosing the particular poem I chose because I had it written, already, years earlier, in honour of the man in whose honour the prize is.

7.   Both speech and poem.

Because I had no way of knowing the awards ceremony was not going to be what I had it imagined to be, a gathering of people involved in, with interest in the prize – writers and academics and people in the circles of these, the prize runners-up and other participants, the friends and perhaps families and others of all these. Until I arrived. Because I wanted to not have to be under the gaze of lights and eyes twice. And for long. Because I did not want to be taken unawares, unprepared for a speech and such during the fun and buzz and such of the ceremony. A ceremony I had no idea changes had been made to…

8.   Now, said speech:

*    *    *

Speech for Awards Ceremony of the 2018 Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize (Fiction) – by Aisha Nelson.

I am highly honoured, quietly but very excited to have won this second and fiction edition of the Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize.

Somewhere and sometime in the past, I have told the story of how I never remember setting out as a writer. But here I am now. Again. Much of that story was not about me.  Much of that story is not about me.

And from today, much of that story will not be about only me. I have mentioned with great gratitude and fondness, the late Ms. Wobson, my senior high school English teacher who first saw and said I am a writer one time in class; Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, who also went too early and sadly.

I have written more than a story and a song about and for the gift of fathers and teachers and friends and believers including Dr. Mawuli Adjei, Professor Kofi Anyidoho, Dr. Martin Egblewogbe, Kwabena Agyare Yeboah, Jonathan Bill Doe, Agnes Quansah, Agnes Gyening. And Kojo – because he insisted I mention his name too.

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Picture by Vanessa Aduama: My (other) friends and meAgnes Quansah and her son on the left, and Agnes Gyening on the right.

I can talk forever about the Giver of all good and beauty-full Gifts, Ataa Naa Nyɔŋmɔ.

I can talk long about my late Grandmother, Mary Ansaba Botchway; Mother, Naa Amanuah Ankrah; my late Father, Ali Nelson. And my nephew, Kofi Poku Odum – who nearly joined me here.

 And right now, I want to share a poem, a poem I was to contribute – a few years ago – to an anthology in honour of the man in whose name and legacy we are gathered here, Professor Kofi Awoonor. Onukpa Kofi (Nyidevu) Awoonor.

 

No Praise – for Onukpa Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor.

I

Grand-e-mother said someone’s one can be more
than another’s ten. One Child.
So here, take corn, salt, take
Pepper. Take that which sates and has character.

Where I come from, they say one can be the killer
of cow for feeding the whole town. (Wo)Man.
Oh smile. laugh. even in death (read SLEEP).
Shine. live and sing. now and on. and again.

Where I come from, they say he does
not age (together) with his claws. The Old Leopard.
So here, take dew, wine, take
Water. Take that which fills and extends…

 

II

fate got it
Wrong. And it’s not fate’s first time. It bit. It
chewed. And it will forever be left
With the swallowing, the eating proper.

fate forgot
One time too many that even in death (read SLEEP), some
Leopards, with one stone of a leap, kill that two-bird of
a death, of a cow, with one leap of
A life, of a life that shames both age and grave.

 

III

praise is
ugly in mouths still munching the pay to praise. praise is
sickly when the one it is poured on needs to look askance,
to look behind to see if it is not for another the praise is…

Praise
will not be forced, will not be poured, not be willed.
Praise is comely on Its own self. So here, take no praise.

Be. Take. You.—-Praise. Are. You…

 

Thank you.

*     *    *

Love,

AishaWrites, 
AishaWinsToo.

Tuesday, 11th June 2019;
Dansoman, Accra, Ghana.

 

A Poem and Some: To Onukpa Atukwei Okai, In Memoriam. (Part 2)

 

This is the second and concluding Part of this writing. Read the first part.

Prof-Atukwei-Okai 3

Picture of Prof. Atukwei Okai – Image may be protected by copyright.

The next and last time I encountered Onukpa Atukwei Okai, it was not at PAWA House.

That next and last time, it was a phone conversation, a conversation which occurred days before my getting into what has always been the very closed undergrad (third year) Introduction to Creative Writing class at the Department of English, University of Ghana, Legon.

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Foregrounds of the The Balme Library, of the University of Ghana, Legon – Image may be protected by copyright.

Prof. Kofi Anyidoho was to be the lecturer, and he would later be a teacher, and a father, to us his students – and when I am not too shy, he would be a friend too, to me, like any of the rest.

And this was throughout the two years that the full Creative Writing courses ran – that is, throughout the two years the course progressed from Introduction to Creative Writing (year three, first semester) and congealed into simply Creative Writing (year three, second semester) before caking with a frightening but freeing intent into Advanced Creative Writing (final year, year-long).

And this was throughout same two years during which the class size was whittled down from 21 to 15 and then straight to 5 students.

From Twenty-One

With the One sitting odd and decidedly detached from the neatly even Twenty, the One sitting aloof yet playing like It belonged to the defined, recognisable form of the Twenty…

I was that One

And for reasons and circumstances I am – again, even up to this day – not able to fully understand and believe, I was one of that final Five.

I was One. Anyway. Despite. In the end.

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Picture Mine: Personal copies of portfolio submitted for grading at the end of each semester of the entire Creative Writing courses: ENGL 363 – Third Year, First Semester; ENGL 364 – Third Year, Second Semester; ENGL 450 – Year long, Final Year. ENGL 450 portfolio is submitted at the end of both semesters, the final one being the ‘fuller’, final student work.

Somewhere during those two years, Dr. Mawuli Adjei would take the classes for some four or two weeks, while Prof. Anyidoho needed to be away. And this was not necessarily the beginning, but definitely was a reference point for his becoming my former lecturer and an ongoing teacher, a kind father and great friend. (And oh, for a reason I’m yet to know, and perhaps, too shy, as usual, to ask, he calls me Sheilla, not Aisha! But not like I mind. So…) Dr. Mawuli Adjei.

Again, forgive me if I (seem to) have digressed again: I only want to tell this story and tell all of it (in one piece, at one place) and never have to tell (another bit of) it elsewhere, again.

So that phone conversation with Onukpa Atukwei Okai. The point of it all was as urgent and grave as the great good which his bringing of Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond and I together brought to my writer-life.

So somewhere in that very brief phone conversation, there was something Onukpa Atukwei Okai said, something after which our conversation had to die a natural, sudden end.

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Credit: BBC Pidgin// ‘Proverb’ Translation: No matter full a bus gets, nobody sits on the driver’s seat.

Something which sank with indelible impact in me because Onukpa Atukwei had taken the time and care to say it in Ga, the mother-tongue he and I shared.

Something which I would later ponder and wonder long about for days and hours, weeks and close to months and a year.

Something which, in the end, would seep and pour and pool into a poem I would write and include in the portfolio I would submit for grading at the end of the first semester of the entire Creative Writing course.

A poem which, in its own weight and ways, would add to the grades which would keep me in the class throughout those two years, the two years at the end of which only 5 out of the initial jagged-edged number of a 21 – rather than the crisply neat 20 – students remained. Solely by merit, I must mention.

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Picture of Prof. Atukwei Okai – Image may be protected by copyright.

And even though I am certain Onukpa Atukwei Okai did not know, and might/would never know about this poem, I do not want to forget to let it be known that long before he passed on, he had lived and will continue to live in a poem he inspired.

A poem he could have as well written and written far better.

A poem he would have all but written if not that it would have been – or at least, have seemed – too novice of him.

A poem he inspired, singularly, all the same.

A poem, I say.

*

The Car 

I have a destination
I have a ticket
the car is full
some said

I have to get there
I have what it takes
the car is full
all chanted

I shall be there
I ought to
the car is full
conductor comes

here I am
out-standing them all
the car came full
and I was the driver

*

Love,

AishaWrites,
AishaRemembersToo.

Monday 20th August, 2018;
Kalpohine Estates, Tamale, Ghana.

*

PS.:

 The Car was one of the poems I read on the weekly radio programme, Writers Project on Citi, on Citi 97.3 FM, on Sunday, 6th May 2012. Before then, I had performed this poem at an open-air theatre event by the Academy of Young Writers – Ghana, at Mensah Sarbah Hall, University of Ghana, Legon

Fifteen Pieces of Literature: Fifteen Shades of What They Call LO.V.E. (3)

A bundle of myrrh is well-beloved unto me;

he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.

Songs of Songs chapter 1, verse 13 (KJV)

So I have issues – serious and personal – with what gets called as a ‘LOVE Poems’. I explained. Yet I can find, and have found myself falling in love with some Love Poems. This too I explained.

So what? What I think makes some ‘Love Poems’ so special, the real deal?

Out of some kind of reverence for Love Itself, and for Poetry managing to defy Its own odds in order to give a thorough, solid and (con)densed treatment of the Love subject, the real, true love poems, I would say, would rather not parade themselves as ‘Love Poems’.No. Rather than glory in balling up the nobility and boundlessness of both Poetry and Love in one piece, such poems seem to give deference – if not reverence – to the two for allowing themselves to first agree to, and then, let themselves gel and congeal in a way that only the two of them can.

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In such ‘love poems’, I usually find a rare, impossible mixture of something bordering on both the down-to-earth and divinity.This quality is almost to a fault, a fault which is so striking in its essence and depth and sweep that, one forgives the ‘fault’ in a way that is a quite shy – not short – of awe and yet, too generous for one to even help it. Simply, such poems have character like no other: humility – almighty and enthralling yet, approachable and filling…

Like I said somewhere of KwabenaAgyareYeboah‘s writing, there is someThing about such poems that definitely transcends art and makes an easy cliché of talent – and sometimes, even of what genius means. And it almost does not matter if that piece of poetry was informed and or inspired by some rooted, riveting personal experience or encounter of any kind. Poems of this nature, obviously, are either rare or are not found in every pile, on every day. Or I do not even know what a love poem (really) is.

talent genuis

Much of the – for lack of a better wordmagic of such poems lies in saying the taken-for-granted and the mundane in ways that are much better than just new; in ways that language is capable of and at the time, is bereft of. More of the – again, for lack of a nobler word – success of such ‘love poems’, just like most other poetry, lies in letting every syllable and pause or break of any kind, every capitalization and punctuation –if any at all – and the whole poem says more than its individual parts, and much more than its entirety.

The use of original, apt imagery is one way of a poem can pull of this magic. Imagery is word-based. Other stylistic devices like structure, syntax and versification can also be explored and of course, used to complement the use of imagery. Whichever way a poem achieves this magic, it expands and or creates (new) meanings and (shared) experiences where they never existed, or where these worlds of were even thought to be possible – as far as the medium of language is concerned.

nature ethereal

And the beauty-full-est of all these is that, these magic-s (poems) are so effortless and light and fluid that one wonders whether one is not reading so much into so little. Also, one wonders whether it is ever possible for the profound and the unbounded to really happen; one is forced to wonder whether that really did happen – in such a demure poem of all others. Their brows are not weighed down with mere mechanics. Neither are they, anywhere and in any way – forced into shape and being, and then propped up, with anything that amounts to trying too hard to please – or trying to please or even, wanting to please.

And it is this very lack of want to please – and most times, even indifference to please, too – that makes the reader, the supposed giver of the ‘success’ label, wonder when in the reading of the poem that s/he was shortchanged into giving out the label, quickly and too eagerly, all the while, without remembering any real ‘work’ done by the poem.

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Oh, one actually ends up being pulled into and served, literally, the import and the world of the poem. So much so that one forgets all the ready-in-hand, rather artificial criteria for what a poem should look like, should be and should do. Such poems are on no prowl to score such points. In being themselves, they become many things to the many people who encounter them. And much more often than not, they are well able to afford to be the exact someThing that each of the many, many different readers are or will be, were or long to be.

Without so much as even choosing or meaning to, such poems are unassuming, at a glance, or at the start, at least. And this unassuming-ness is as well the (strong)hold of the poem. And to a large extent, this nature is also the magic’s (read, poem’s) success. Such poems. They do not intend, not to even talk of trying, to succeed. Whatever success even means. Such poems, like Love that is true and real and has come to stay, do exist, but again, are not in every pile, and not found every day. Not yet, at least. I think.

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More often than not, and like I once said of Ayikwei Armah’s writing (prose, to be specific) too, such poems get to choose their readers – read, LOVErs. Strangely, this their proud, choosy nature, perfectly fits and gives hold and character to their unassuming, too-humble-to-be-truenature(s).

And this probably explains why every time I forget the title of such poems and or the names of their authors, I know too well that I have not lost anything at all: I may be one lucky, chosen LOVEr of such poems so I can always know that they will draw me unto themselves, with or without much effort in my seeking them out…one time too many. Always, actually. And what more, they will never fail to give me a fresh draught…a new peek…an-other spark…some simple pebble of a wisdom or a twig of thought for keeps – just one more reason of any kind, just someThing to keep me coming back to them.

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Such Poetry.

Such Love.

I speak of such Love Poems.

And I present the second set, five of the fifteen Love Pieces, five more shades of the magic that is called L.O.V.E.

 

6. Two Poems by Kofi Anyidoho
Murmuring
I met a tall broadchest
strolling down deepnight
with my fiancée in his arms
She passed me off for a third cousin
On her mama’s side of a dried-up family tree

I nodded and walked away
Murmuring unnameable things to myself

                                                 Bloomington, 9 September 1978

And so

And so
I could go down in crouching posters
I could gather your woes your griefs
I could reach all out for that last
calabash of fresh palm-wine
and
go to sleep to sleep and sleep
sprawled upon the floor amid your tears…
But I would wake up before the squirrel’s
search for a morning meal

                                                Bloomington, 22 November 1978

7. One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

8. Two Psalms of/by Biblical David ben Jesse.
Psalm 23 (A Psalm of David)

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
.

Psalm 133 (A Song of Degrees of David)

1 Behold, how good and how pleasant
it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head,
that ran down upon the beard,even Aaron’s beard:
that went down to the skirts of his garments;

3 As the dew of Hermon,
and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion:
or there the LORD commanded the blessing,
even life for evermore.

9.The Prologue (a sonnet) to Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy by William Shakespeare
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

10. I’m Really Very Fond of You by Alice Walker
I’m really very fond of you,
he said.

I don’t like fond.
It sounds like something
you would tell a dog.

Give me love,
or nothing.

Throw your fond in a pond,
I said.

But what I felt for him
was also warm, frisky,
moist-mouthed,
eager,
and could swim away

if forced to do so.

Love: AishaWrites.

I never remember setting out as a Writer. I do know that I have not only been a loner, but also, always been a thinker – as in the philosophical, reflective, and yes, the daydreaming sense. The first time I remember telling someone, an elderly person, what I would like to be in future and I mentioned Writer, I was told that no one makes a serious job, a meaningful career, out of being that. ‘Beside, writers are too weird a people. And I don’t like the way they dress. And other things,’ my aunt’s husband had added. I knew little at the time to decide what to make of his words about Writers and their ways…

I never remember setting out as a Writer. I do remember that quite early in my first year in high school, I was to write a story on a theme similar to ‘Ball in the Soup’, a story in our English Language textbook. Our Teacher had a few of us students read the stories we had come up with. Then she called me – and I had not even raised my hand, to be called – to read mine. It so much looked like one of those pranks Teachers sometimes like to play on students who are rather too quiet (but not necessarily passive) in class, just to get such students too to talk. The Opening of my story, everything In Between and The Ending made nothing, if not nonsense, of all that our Teacher had taught us about what makes for proper, well-crafted stories.

I never remember setting out as a writer, so I could not have meant to be rebellious or something of the sort to all the tips – or were they tricks? – which my Teacher had taught, and very well so. I just wrote my story the way it came to me, and that, I read to both Teacher and classmates.

I never remember setting out as a writer, so I could have expected my Teacher to be disappointed with what I read. My teacher waited too long to give the remarks about my story. There was something ominous and everything intentional – reflective, even – about the wait. While I had read and when I had finished with the reading, my classmates had been far too silent than could be true of them. They seemed to be both afraid and eager to hear what rebuke, whether harsh or hushed, that our Teacher would give me. Theirs was one worrisome wait. In an already thin voiced which had waned shrill with sheer wonderment, the rebuke came…

‘I tell you! There are writers in this class’, was all that my English Language Teacher had said. Miss Wobson is her name, and the last time I searched for her, she is late…

I never remember setting out as a writer, so during those same years, when I met Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, I was more surprised than elated when she gladly offered to mentor me. And I did not ask, just as it never would have occurred to me to ask… She had only read one short story of mine which had appeared in Graphic Communications Group’s The Mirror. Her first letter to me – I was in boarding school by then – was more praise and love than recommendations and encouragement. That letter was to be my first and only from her. After several writing and calling back, all without any response whatsoever, I later learnt Madam Hammond passed away…

I never remember setting out as a writer and even now, and for a long time to come – and maybe forever, I will remain careful to call myself a writer. Too.

One day, I will tell of Ali Nelson and Naa Amanuah Ankrah and Ansaba Botchway.
One day, I will also tell of Prof. Kofi Anyidoho and Dr. Mawuli Adjei (Mawuli Adzei).
One day, I will tell of Adza Gloria (as I used to call her) and one Mrs. Ruth Benny-Wood. Too.

One day, I will tell of more others and properly tell this story of how it became that AishaWrites.

Until then, it just happens that Love is, that AishaWrites.

Until then and in in keeping with the name and spirit of this blog, Nu kɛ Hulu (Water and Sun), here are two poems, the latter of which was first published in the Kalahari Review.

with heads up

They went as fast as they came
leaving behind stuffed air for reasons
around all the dreams we wove
They went as fast as they came
leaving behind tired knots for cords
on the songs we strung and sang together

the dreams turned into walls
and echoed the ugliness of
the love-turned-hate songs
For a long lost memorial,
the love-turned-hate songs
smeared, smudged on the blanched walls and all

They went as fast as they could
leaving behind fine feathers for trails
to some place without a name
They went as fast as they could
to build fancy, fairy castles
with strange elements and stranger people

the feathers became wings
and fanned time, age and more time on
their haste-turned- castles
For a sorry, soul-less thing,
the haste-turned-castles
stood, drooped under the wasteful wings

They went
as fast as they came
as far as they could
leaving me with plenty room
for everything,
and all the Sun
for all things…

Thursday, 26th April 2007

…at the scent of water

not water
not dew
at the scent of water

let the frayed stump spew green
let the foul egg vomit a being

let that which was birthed to die
find life
let that which died before birth
know life

at the scent of water
not dew
not water

Friday, 19th June 2009

Do remember
to share the Love,
to spread this Love and
to leave a comment.

Do have
a merry Christmas,
a happier new year and
a fruitful, fulfilling life.

Love,

AishaWrites.