VI by John Haynes

I enjoyed the following poem, with its northern Nigerian theme. In fact, I remember meeting John Haynes some time in 1998 (I think) at the house of Dr (now Prof) Abubakar A Rasheed, then managing director of the ‘New Nigerian’. Rasheed, a former HOD, English at the Bayero University, was my lecturer. And I think he was Dr Haynes’ student at the Ahmadu Bello University, where Haynes had taught for decades. Haynes was in Kaduna on a visit; he had retired from teaching at ABU many years earlier and was (is) living in England. I was an editor at the newspaper house. I interviewed Haynes and had a photophaph with him (That’s me and the big man). I shall find the interview in due course and post it here, especially since it has never been published till date. Meanwhile, here’s the poem:

by John Haynes

“The bar is what you’re going to miss,” you said,
“not me,” but that’s wrong isn’t it, to draw
lines around people (even if they’re dead),

as if I’d miss the place you live in more
than you, when there’s no line between at all
and that’s something that you kept saying, your

philosophy, the sense of floor, mud wall,
dust road as who we are, the kites’ long cry
at harmattan, the beggar’s rhythmic call

outside Alhaji Kowa’s store, this I
that floats and enters you from just as far
as ever, dear one, shapeless as the sigh

that lifts out of your mouth, out of the bar,
out of the rusted corrugated zinc
and mixes with some wailing armoured car

out on the road, and then the first tink-tink
of birds, the cockerel’s call, none of it you,
except that when I think of it I think

it is and not the old femme noire, femme nue
‘Afrique’, no, something shared in spite of skin
colour, and Lugard’s maxim gun, or through

just those, is it?

From Letter to Patience, by John Haynes, published by Seren in 2007. Prof Haynes taught in the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, from the 70s through to the 80s before retiring and returning to live in his native UK. To order a copy of his book of poems for £7.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875 or go to

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