Griot of Strange Places

In a roadside bar in Ouagadougou,
a Togolese who claimed to have lived
along the hills of redemption, drunk
and alone, said to me, for ten CFAs 
I go sing you God, I go sing you rapture. 
Looking into his face, I thought
about the wooden pipes of long-haired monks 
who carved out of rocks a ten-foot effigy of Christ, 
carrying it for miles until devotion carved a wound 
into their shoulders. I didn’t know this man,
this bard from an old and distant city,
whose forehead was wrinkled like a couple 
of rolled up maps. Outside the open windows, 
women kept walking back and forth. 
Pimps stood in dark corners, lighted by street lamps. 
A man in a dark coat jumped across a puddle of water, 
and on the other side, the black earth moved 
into the newness of things as a jazz band 
pierced the air, mimicking through music 
the movement of God, the elegy we all belong to, 
bringing me to witness an old bald cobbler 
walking from one street to another, logging 
behind him a tin box, the vestige of his small world.


Copyright © 2024 by Romeo Oriogun. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“I am always thinking about the fellowship that is found on the road, those moments when the world is nothing but an event and I become both a participant and a witness. I wish there was more to say about this poem, but it is what it is: an event that unites strangers and, at the same time, divides them.”
—Romeo Oriogun