This weekend 175 people were injured, over 30 taken hostage and at least 68 killed in a terrorist attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya; the three-day siege is ongoing but expected to end soon. Among the dead is the respected Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor, who was in Nairobi for a literary festival and was out shopping with his son.
Born in 1935, Awoonor attended and then later taught at the University of Ghana. He was politically active, and exiled after a 1966 coup; he taught English literature at SUNY in the '70s, and returned to Ghana in 1975, after which he was arrested and imprisoned without trial for his alleged involvement in another coup. He was Ghana's ambassador to Brazil and Cuba in the '80s, and the envoy to the United Nations in the early '90s.
Awoonor's grandmother was a mourning singer, and his poems drew heavily from the oral traditions of the Ewe people. Here is a poem that he wrote for his daughter, called "For Sika."
Remember the Christmas
when on our way from Chelsea
you fell on pavements
broke a tooth and I was mute?
Your mother thought I was cruel,
but your fall hurt me
in that all of us,
your clansmen, fell on alien ground
Remember the morning walks
to your nanny's
where you sulked and longed for home
the agony of flights and
the pain of separation looming
large like winter moons.
I knew I was the tempest
that will blast your youth
and misery of infancy.
Oh, I was the Abraham
sacrificing my Isaac
waiting in vain for the ram in the thicket
for dreams long forgotten under tropical suns.
But what could I have done?
Was I not aware of coming prophecies
the final estrangement
prepared in secrecy
by the intervening gods of my household?
No. I was not seeking
an athanasia; how can I
the epilogue of my own long torment
understand the prologue I dreamed you to be?