Telephone Conversation

From one of my favorite authors, a smart and witty poem by the playwright Wole Soyinka:

Telephone Conversation

The price seemed reasonable, location Indifferent.
The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. “Madam,” I warned,
“I hate a wasted journey–I am African.”
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was foully.
“HOW DARK?” . . . I had not misheard . . . “ARE YOU LIGHT
OR VERY DARK?” Button B, Button A.* Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis–
“ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came.
“You mean–like plain or milk chocolate?”
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted,
I chose. “West African sepia”–and as afterthought,
“Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding
“DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
“THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” “Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but, madam, you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blond. Friction, caused–
Foolishly, madam–by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black–One moment, madam!”–sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears–”Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?”

-1962

Poem via NaijaCandy

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Telephone Conversation

2 thoughts on “Telephone Conversation

  1. blackwatertown says:

    Do you know this one from Benjamin Zephaniah? We had it up in our house for years. It pre-dates the latest Prez in the White House.

    White Comedy

    I waz whitemailed
    By a white witch,
    Wid white magic
    An white lies,
    Branded by a white sheep
    I slaved as a whitesmith
    Near a white spot
    Where I suffered whitewater fever.
    Whitelisted as a whiteleg
    I waz in de white book
    As a master of white art,
    It waz like white death.

    People called me white jack
    Some hailed me as a white wog,
    So I joined de white watch
    Trained as a white guard
    Lived off the white economy.
    Caught and beaten by de whiteshirts
    I waz condemned to a white mass,
    Don’t worry,
    I shall be writing to de Black House.

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