Telephone Conversation

Telephone Conversation :

The price seemed reasonable, location

Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived

Off premises. Nothing remained

But self-confession. ‘Madam,’ I warned,

‘I hate a wasted journey—I am African.’

Silence. Silenced transmission of

Pressurised good-breeding. Voice, when it came,

Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled

Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.

‘HOW DARK ?’... I had not misheard... ‘ARE YOU LIGHT

OR VERY DARK ?’ Button B. Button A. Stench

Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.

Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered

Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed

By ill-mannered silence, surrender

Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification.

Considerate she was, varying the emphasis—

‘ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?’ Revelation came.

‘You mean—like plain or milk chocolate?’

Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light

Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted,

I chose. ‘West African sepia’—and as afterthought,

“down in my passport." Silence for spectroscopic

Flight of fancy, till truthfulness changed her accent

Hard on the mouthpiece. ‘WHAT’S THAT?’ conceding

‘DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.’ ‘Like brunette.’

‘THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?’ ‘Not altogether.

Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see

The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet

Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused—

Foolishly madam—by sitting down, has turned

My bottom raven black—One moment madam!’—sensing

Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap

About my ears—‘Madam,’ I pleaded, ‘wouldn’t you rather

See for yourself ?’

Wole Soyinka (born 1934), is a famous Nigerian poet and playwright. He was educated at the Government College in Ibadan, Nigeria and, later, at Leeds University, England, where he took a degree in English. He taught in the London schools and also worked in the Royal Court Theatre. He returned to Nigeria when he was about twenty-five. He has been one of the leading figures in Nigerian theatre, writing a number of successful plays and also leading a theatrical company. He is the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for literature (1986). His writings are known for their humour and satire.

The word POETRY originates from a Greek word meaning TO MAKE. A poet is thus a maker and the poem something that is made or created. No single definition of poetry is possible but some characteristic features of poetry may be mentioned. Poetry has a musical quality with rhythm, pitch, metre and it may use figures of speech such as simile and metaphor. While quite a few poems in this selection are in traditional forms, the unit also includes modern poems that are free from formal restrictions.

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