PoetryIssue 21 | October 2014

Igbo Directions in Amsterdam

by Uche Ogbuji

Eh! Excuse me young man; you look Nigerian.

I am, I say, I am indeed.

OK good. I thought you were going to speak Dutch to me
How can people understand that yeye language?
Kai! They just cut their throat all the time:
Gracht! Gracht! Gracht! Tufia-kwa!
So therefore, where are you from, now?

I’m from America, visiting from Colorado.

Nonsense! Which kind answer be that?
Where are you from?

I’m from Umunakanu, Ehime, Mbano.

Eh heh! Did I not know?
Kedu ka i mere?

O di mma!

Eh heh! So you speak your language.
I na suo Igbo.
I wasn’t sure with that supri-supri accent.
Me, I’m from Nnewi.

And so she switched to rapid, riverside Igbo,
Drawing me along on the Niger at the Onitsha bridge,
Almost sweeping me across to Anioma.

I held on, half drowned and gasping;
Finally, a snatch of shore.

A nam a cho Regulierswahrsstrasse.
O nwere onye na e nyelum aka eba.
Biko, i nwere ihe dika map

I held out my second-hand Amsterdam op de Fiets
With its regimented blocks of pleins upon grachts.
Smiling as she squinted at the slip of paper from her purse
The misspelled Dutch.
Who had tried to drown her
This far from Onishe’s care?
Who had commended her
To the alien currents of the Ej?

Kedu ka i mere?—Igbo: how are you doing?
O di mma!—Igbo: it is well
Anioma—Territory just west of the Niger from Igboland, whose people are either Igbo or closely related
A nam a cho—Igbo: I’m looking for
O nwere onye na e nyelum aka eba—Igbo: Someone there is to do me a favor
Biko, i nwere ihe dika map?—Please, do you have any sort of map?
Onishe—Northwestern Igbo goddess and personification of the River Niger, source of the city name Onitsha

About the author

Uche Ogbuji was born in Calabar, Nigeria and has been a traveler ever since. His poems, fusing Igbo culture, European Classicism, U.S. Mountain West setting, and Hip-Hop influences, have appeared worldwide. He lived, among other places, in Egypt and England before settling near Boulder, Colorado, the first place in his life where he has lived more than three years. His collection of poetry, Ndewo, Colorado is a Colorado Book Award Winner. He is editor at Kin Poetry Journal, runs the @ColoradoPoetry Twitter project, and is a founding, former editor at The Nervous Breakdown.

Read our current issue:


Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

Travel notes

Anchorage in the Great Land by Karen Benning
The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok