‘The Fattened Rump of Human Disregard’: Zena Edwards on Shell, Nigeria & Ken Saro-Wiwa

27 Jul 2009 admin
© Ed Kashi,

remember saro-wiwa commissioned leading performance poet Zena Edwards to write and perform a new work, reflecting upon the role of oil companies in the deteriorating human rights situation in the Niger Delta.

We have reproduced her poem and a photo by renowned photographer Ed Kashi, which inspired the commission, and included a video of Zena performing poetry at a press conference event at Amnesty International UK on 9th April 2009.


by Zena Edwards

Ken, there is a photo of a girl
12,13 slim wrists long neck
she walks wearing peach, blue flip flops
stepping with familiarity
over the slippery backs of 8 pipelines
she is at 5
holding an umbrella with a bright yellow shell on it
she seeks protection from a gentle rain falling from an African sky
behind her, between giant palm leaves
dragons roar, bellowing black billows, seething
belligerent belches of acridity in the sky
when I put my ear close to the glossy paper I can hear
her asthmatic breath

each clap of her plastic flip flop against her heel
makes a poem, applaud the poem in her step
it is the sound of everyday people who live between the pipelines, tapeworms
vampiring the placenta, excreting toxic
into the bloodstream of a nation
the rivers are graveyards, the wetlands thirsty for clean breath
the land is haemorraghing
miscarrying cocoyam and vegetable seed

Boys who have given up waiting for jobs to come
Idly eye her as she walks by
A generation numbed by the futility of existence
It is ironic that their most valuable asset is their  Achilles heel
As the stagnancy of fervent youth
Dumps them in the hands of AK47 robber gangs
who howl in the night to the tune
Of their masters – myopic madmen in business
Grappling for a fist of flaccid dollars
Greed at the price of a village

But then again, everything has its price in this world
Like this girls poetry in her step, her lungs
A fair currency, fat with poisonous air
Her mothers sludge garden, her fathers chest
Face and shoulder, burned in the last accident

The truth is a jealous but patient thing
It brook no hazes of the facts or credibility gaps
There is only one fragrance it will lie with
Time, the scent of time moves from fresh to death, rot to humus fertilisation of new days

It is between the pages of a day in court
That a mystery will be solved
Why it takes twelve long years to walk the twisted violent gauntlet to justice
Why nine lives were thrown into a wound cut with knives of lies

How the spirits of the tortured and the murdered
Can be redeemed from the dispassionate mouth of brutal
And how with the wondrous alchemy of Nature, instead of bitter bile
Rising into the mouths of fishermen and farmers

work songs will rise over the trees
Will dance with the fish along the creeks
Will paint across a sky uninterrupted by fire and towers of black smoke

And how the poem of the girl with the blue flip flops can be fetched

From under the fattened rump of human disregard

And raised to re-imagine the world
Why she close the umbrella with the yellow shell
And walk in the unpolluted gentle rain falling from an African sky

© Zena Edwards

Visit Zena’s myspace page for more poetry, music and performances.

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