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Living is a Fire




Living is a cross

That any one of the rock-faces



We are drawn

To many seas.

We drown wholesomely

In the failures of confrontation.

The rain


Our doorsteps

Has nothing to do

With the simplest desires

And lacerations

We bring

To the smallest acts

Of living.


The child

On the broken catwalk

Hearing the sounds of our hunger

Without understanding

Throws echoes back

To the earliest abandonments

Of love.


Minor devastations preceding


Resonate the ineffable.

The mothers that wake

At the slightest sound

And the fathers that

Smoke all night

And the rest of us who are

Vigilantes from the demons

Of oppressed sleep

Find at dawn the clearest

Images of bewilderment.

Even the best things

Collapse beneath the weight

Of ignorance.


Living is a fire

That any one of the wave-lashes



Editor's note: Culled from Ben Okri's The African Elegy. Published by Jonathan Cape (London). Copyright Ben Okri


Ben Okri was born in 1959 in Minna, Northern Nigeria. He spent some of his childhood years in London before returning to Nigeria with his parents in 1968.


This was at the peak of the Nigerian Civil War. The violence and injustice he saw impacted on his early fiction. He left Nigeria when he won a government scholarship to read Comparative Literature at Essex University in England.

He was poetry editor for
West Africa magazine between 1983 and 1986 and broadcast regularly for the BBC World Service between 1983 and 1985. He was appointed Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge in 1991, a post he held until 1993. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1987, and was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Westminster (1997) and Essex

In 1991 Okri was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Famished Road (1991).  He is a member of the board of the Royal National Theatre, and was awarded an OBE in 2001. He lives in London


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