John Pepper Clark

The casualties are not only those who are dead;

They are well out of it.

The casualties are not only those who are wounded,

Thought they await burial by installment

The casualties are not only those who have lost

 Person or property, hard as it is

To grape for a touch that some

May not know is not there

The casualties are not those led away by night;

The cell is a cruel place, sometimes a heaven,

No where as absolute as the grave

The casualties are not those who started

A fire and now cannot put to out. Thousands

Are burning that had no say in the matter.

The casualties are not only those who escaping

The shattered shell become prisoners in

A fortress of falling walls.


The casualties are many, and a good number well

Outside the scene of ravage and wreck;

They are the emissaries of rift,

So smug in smoke-room they haunt abroad,

They are wandering minstrels who, beating on

 The drum of human heart, draw the world

Into a dance with rites it does not know


The drum overwhelm the guns…

Caught in the clash of counter claims and charges

When not in the niche others have left,

We fall.

All casualties of war,

Because we cannot hear other speak,

Because eyes have ceased to see the face from the crowd,

Because whether we know or

Do not know the extent of wrong on all sides,

We are characters now other than before

The war began, the stay- at- home unsettled

By taxes and rumor, the looter for office

And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return,

We are all casualties,

All sagging as are

The case celebrated for kwashiorkor,

The unforeseen camp-follower of not just our war.


John Pepper Clark

 See her caught in the throb of a drum

Tippling from  hide-brimmed stem

Down lineal veins to ancestral core

Opening out in her supple tan

Limbs like fresh foliage in the sun.


See how entangled in the magic

Maze  of music

In trance she treads the intricate

Pattern rippling crest after crest

To meet the green clouds of the forest.


Tremulous beats wake trenchant

In her heart a descent

Tingling quick to her finger tips

And toes virginal habits long

Too atrophied for pen or tongue.


Could I, early sequester’d from my tribe,

Free a lead – tether’d scribe

I should answer her communal call

Lose myself in her arm cares

Intervolving earth, sky and flesh.


John Pepper Clark

Rain comes

After long surcease in desert

Rain comes,

Hot- breathing, alert

And swift to thunder rolls and claps

With kestrel-together – leaf flaps.

And earth all the while waiting waitng insert,

Fallow and burdened with stone,

Shudders to her rump,


Tingles to the trump

Of the long missed one.

Now with more than tongue can tell

Thrusts, he stokes her, swamps her,

Enters all of him beyond her fell,

Till in the calm and cool after

All alone, earth yawns, limbers her stay,

Swollen already with the life to break at day.


John Pepper Clark

A bus groaned uphill. Trapped

In their seat, fifty odd passengers rocked

To its pulse, each dreaming

Of a different destination.

God’s time is the best, read

One legend. No condition is

Permanent, said  another. And on,

On over the hill Shittu

Drove the lot, a cloud of India hemp

Unfolding among his robes. With

The swish over his shoulders, it

Trailed out, touched tails with the smoke

That squatted all indigo

On the hillside: like a stream

Was the going  downhill, swift

Past recollection, straight into a bend

Upturned as a saucer, and

The journey spilt over in a ditch.

In the early morning sun,

To the clamour of files that first

Answered the alarm water

Of sewage kind washed their common

Wound, silence their common groan.

No need of first aid,

All died on the spot

Said the dailies. The police,

Well supplied with  noted,

Are looking for the driver

Who escaped unhurt. 

US - Africa Literary Foundation

Chimdi Maduagwu, PhD
Executive Director
US-Africa Writers Foundation
Dr. Bode Osanyin
Chairman, Department of Creative Arts
University of Lagos
Department of Creative Arts
Akoka, Yaba
Lagos, Nigeria

Website Copyright © 2002-5 US-Africa Writers Foundation.  Selected writings copyright by their authors