Today’s Theme: Terrorism & Counter-Terrorism.

It is a timely theme, don’t you think?

These days we turn on the nightly news dreading images of yet another bomb blast somewhere in Nigeria. And on slow days we can always count on a blast from Kenya,Somalia or more armed insurgencies from North, Central or West  Africa, to keep the subject on the front burners.

Growing up, I enjoyed Louis Macneice’s poem, Prayer before Birth, which  starts,

I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me.

and ends:

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

I hadn’t read it for a decade at least, but when I got the inspiration for my own poem, the structure of Macneice’s Prayer before Birth was the perfect vehicle.

In my poem, the poet persona is a hijabbed woman reacting to the counter-terrorism measures and stereotyping she experiences in an airport. Frequent travelers who have been traveling for many years will recognize how much the travel experience has changed for the worse in only a decade. — And recognize too how, even  the ‘unsuccessful’ shoe bomber and ‘unsuccessful’  underwear bomber both succeeded in degrading the travel experience for everyone else, our hijabbed heroine inclusive.

Prayer before Flight
(after Louis Macneice)

I’m about to fly, so help me.

may the heaven-bound youth with the
lust for virgins miss my flight.
when the prodding wand comes my way
let it beep briefly, and be

give me this day
panties like a crab’s carapace,
shield me from the scanner with the voyeur eye;
dress me in corsets for coarse hands and
in bras to brace me for the small room
where they queue with a fiat
to grope

kill us foxes for our furs,
bulls for our belts &
alligators for the shoes on that flight –
and may the soles on all shoes on that plane
be true wood 

may the pops on that flight
spill champagne and
no more

I am hijabbed, have
I lack grace under grief:
do not profile me with the Palestinian beard,
the Arab-sounding name, or the youth from Lagos

may my sufferings be brief.
let the cup of Iraqi-accented Urdu-speaking

men from Yemen
pass by me

I am scared,
bung me up.
constipate me when I eat.
insulate me from the long toilet call
on that ten-hour-trip in the skies 

grant me short, dreamless sleep when I doze.
seat the spy on the plane far from me.
& if I mutter in my sleep,
may the words
bomb & terror

not be said

bless me with a pilot that has learnt how to take-off
and land, and may your kingdom

come (not today)

Reading @ Terra Kulture
Reading @ Terra Kulture

6 Replies to “Prayer before Flight; [Day 6 Countdown to 'The Final Testament of a Minor God']”

  1. Ibiene says:

    I doff my hat
    I read Macneice’s poem in Mrs. Bowker’s English class. It is one of my favourite and your ‘re-make’ is beautiful!

    1. Chuma Nwokolo says:

      Thanks Ibiene,
      & thank God for the Mrs. Bowkers of this world. I stumbled on Macniece in the wild, far from a classroom…

  2. Alysynkene says:

    I haven’t read something this sober in a long while. And this is in a nation where bombs r going off! This is quiet simply genius!

  3. Iquo DianaAbasi Eke says:

    Simply Astounding…
    ‘let the cup of Iraqi-accented Urdu-speaking

    men from Yemen
    pass by me’

    then again;
    ‘constipate me when I eat.
    insulate me from the long toilet call
    on that ten-hour-trip in the skies

    grant me short, dreamless sleep when I doze’

    So poignant, these descriptions.
    This poet knows when she reads her superior.

  4. Chuma Nwokolo says:

    V.generous of you, Iquo, but your readers will not be as modest as you are…

    poignant images of poignant circumstances…


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