Mwatabu S. Okantah was born in Orange, New Jersey in 1952. Mr. Okantah holds the BA degree in English and African Studies from Kent State University (1976) and the MA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York (1982). A former Assistant to the Director of the Black Studies Program at Cleveland State University, he was a Resident Poet in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University and Director of the Center of Pan-African Culture. As a poet and lecturer, Okantah has appeared in various locations throughout the USA, Canada and West Africa. As a performer,he has worked in a variety of musical situations, including time as Griot for the Iroko African Drum & Dance Society and in an ongoing collaboration with the Cavani String Quartet.

Mwatabu S. OkantahCurrently he is the leader of the Muntu Kuntu Energy Ensemble—a four piece performance group. Okantah’s honors include a 1999 Outstanding Teaching Award, selection to the 5th Edition of Who’s Who Among Teachers in America, inclusion in the International Who’s Who in Poetry and selection in Outstanding Writers of the 20th Century by the International Biographical Centre. In 1994, he served as a “special guest” guide for Sankofa Tours in Senegal and Ghana. In 1988, he was named a Rotary International Group Study Exchange Fellow in Nigeria. Mr. Okantah has also taught at Union College, The Livingston College of Rutgers University and Lakeland Community College. He is the author of Afreeka Brass (1983) and COLLAGE (1984). His current work is the epic poem, Cheikh Anta Diop:Poem for the Living (1997). Work has been anthologized in Why L.A. Happened (1993), Soul Looks Back in Wonder (1994), The Second Set (1996) and Warpland (1999).

Poems by Mwatabu S. Okantah

Breakfast At The Ibis

each morning
she slips in a side door.
only I notice her.
circumstances make me
a willing accomplice.

hungry people roam streets
everywhere
in this world.
in picture post card
London, they
haunt train stations,
Bobbies herd them up from underground:

in hotel restaurant
she stands
still,
statue-like, mindful
not to disturb
the thick European air;
India beauty,
battered,
too far from home
to be hungry in strange lands.

English, American, French, German
tourists breakfast
at the Ibis.

they have European eyes.
they do not see her.
they stare.
they pretend they do not see me
sitting there watching
them.

through white shadows
only I notice
she has dance-dared-
dared-to-dance
about the buffet now.
our eyes meet.
tray in hand
she makes her way to my table.
invisible.
we both eat.

Hotel Ibis,
London

African Tree

Nigeria’s giant silk cottonwood,
massive,
mystifying, majestic,
standing the tallest tree in the forest.

mighty tree, how many rains,
how many dry seasons
have you wind-song weathered?
how many times
have your leaves whispered
the stories of black ages?

talk to me old African tree,
tell me our story
from unknown pages.
talk to me,
master of the forest tree,
pointed skyward,
grayish green white against the horizon.

teach me to stand Nigerian tree.
your kidnapped now
lost children
are in need of tall trees
to grow masters of a hostile forest.

I stand in your shade
silk cottonwood charmer tree,
rid me of this bitterness,
bind these wounds,
these scars lashed across
the bare back of my imagination.

restore me magic silk cotton,
resurrect Africa’s
dispersed children once more
upon that stage of our history
only you in your tree-
wisdom can know.

Market Day

the light flashes red.
traffic stops.
the intersection transforms into market.

they come. they converge
on waiting cars.
people selling all manner of things:
leather goods,
toilet paper, razor blades,
chew sticks, groundnuts,
newspapers, magazines,
handkerchiefs,
baby clothes...

they come.
beggars on twisted limbs
with probing eyes.
blind men guided by grim faced
sad eyed children.
children.
refugee women, wandering, babies
carried in their arms, babies
tied to their backs, babies
held up before open
car windows.
they search each car for soft eyes
to look into...

the light flashes green.
traffic resumes.
the people retreat.
they wait.
they market day in Port Harcourt.

Nigeria

Poem For Africa

oh Africa,
so many would seduce you,
so many would make you
the harlot of all the lands.

oh Africa,
which way will you choose?
money lust will destroy you.
vampires already
taste your black blood.
corporate vultures circle.
they smell green death in your air.

Africa, my Africa,
what good is progress
when ancient traditions give way
to white hot madness,
when virtue runs like oil
between the legs of your daughters
turned street walkers
in port city nights?

Africa, my Africa,
hear our cries.
hear the children of those taken turned
American ghetto dwellers.
we know the pale menacing glare.
we know the road
we see you
now begin to travel.

Africa, my Africa,
Mother Father Africa,
even in America
Dada sings freedom wake up
songs for you—
neither centuries
nor distance
not even our own demon


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