Flying

(for Niyi Osundare)

Something in altitude kindles power-thirst
Mere horse-height suffices the emir
Bestowing from rich folds of prodigious turban
Upon crawling peasants in the dust
Rare imperceptible nods enwrapped
In princely boredom.
 
I too have known
A parching of that primordial palate,
A quickening to manifest life
Of a long recessive appetite.
Though strapped and manacled
That day I commanded from the pinnacle
Of a three-tiered world a bridge befitting
The proud deranged deity I had become.
A magic rug of rushing clouds
Billowed and rubbed its white softness
Like practiced houri fingers on my sole
And through filters of its gauzy fabric
Revealed wonders of a metropolis
Magic-struck to fairyland proportions.
By different adjustments of vision
I caused the clouds to float
Over a stilled landscape, over towers
And masts and smoke-plumed chimneys;
Or turned the very earth, unleashed
From itself, a roaming fugitive
Beneath a constant sky. Then came
A sudden brightness over the world,
A rare winter’s smile it was, and printed
On my cloud carpet a black cross
Set in an orb of rainbows. To which
Splendid nativity came–who else would come
But gray unsporting Reason, faithless
Pedant offering a bald refractory annunciation?
But oh what beauty! What speed!
A chariot of night in panic flight
From Our Royal Proclamation of the rites
Of day! And riding out Our procession
Of fantasy We slaked an ancient
Vestigial greed shriveled by ages of dormancy
Till the eyes exhausted by glorious pageantries
Returned to rest on that puny
Legend of the life jacket stowed away
Of all places under my seat.
 
Now I think I know why gods
Are so partial to heights—to mountain
Tops and spires, to proud iroko trees
And thorn-guarded holy bombax,
Why petty household divinities
Will sooner perch on a rude board
Strung precariously from brittle rafters
Of a thatched roof than sit squarely
On safe earth.

"Flying" from Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe, copyright © 1971, 1973, 2004 by Chinua Achebe.  Used by permission of Anchor Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. 
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