You lime of the forest, honey among the rocks,
lemon of the cloister, grape in the savannah.
A hip to be enclosed by one hand;
a thigh round like a piston.
Your back — a manuscript to read hymns from.
Your eye trigger-happy, shoots heroes.
Your gown, cobweb-tender,
your shirt like soothing balm.
Soap? O no, you wash in Arabian scent,
your calf painted with silver lines.
I dare not touch you!
Hardly dare to look back.
You mistress of my body:
more precious to me than my hand or my foot.
Like the fruit of the valley, the water of paradise.
Flower of the sky; wrought by divine craftsmen;
With muscular thigh she stepped on my heart,
her eternal heel trod me down.
But have no compassion with me:
her breast resembles the finest gold;
when she opens her heart —
the Saviour’s image!
And Jerusalem herself, sacred city,
shouts “Holy, holy!”
~ Anonymous, trans. via Wole Soyinka
Editor’s note: Originally published in ‘Poems of Black Africa’, ed. Wole Soyinka(Heinemann, 1975).