Involucrum


By Tolu Oloruntoba

Manchu of the Manchurians is dying
Down to the last thousand.
Khans and Greeks, Persians and Babylonians, Songhai,
Ottomans in the dust.

Foreign diplomats, fidgety, want to know if
The Emperor’s secretly a genius,
Or mad for his plans.
Tinkerers, to help, have
Roused Gibbon’s automaton, termite
Of millennia,
To destroy the enemy.

Listen when the senate speaks with the voice of god and old men.
Their priority is to help him
Lure it with fragrant intelligence, bedroom-trawled.
Prime its pumps with trail of tears
Deportees in the cannon.
Shelf-melt in bicameral tank, constitution in steam furnace.
To reverse-engineer the lattice of clothespins
Raise a trebuchet
For a flaming Alexandria of policy across the ocean.

The brine reaches our ankles.
Offshore, determined to help,
They are digging for a war budget on the ship.
This new colossus, same as old colossus,
Whose copper involucrum curtained, curtailed
Receipts of auctions and genocide.
Skirts rifled now guard a matchbox town,
A kingdom of deer.


Tolu Oloruntoba was born in Ibadan, Nigeria. His poetry has appeared or is upcoming in Pleiades, The Reverie Journal, SUNU Journal, and The Kalahari Review, and his short fiction has appeared in translation in Danish PEN Magazine. He is the founding editor of Klorofyl Magazine.

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