The Pipeline Lover

A poet seeks only to protect his rusted, burning beloved

| May-June 2009

It was perhaps the most extraordinary accident in a lifetime of sexological encounters.

During an NGO-funded trip to study the sexual relations of slum dwellers, I drove through a village on the outskirts of Lagos that is bisected by an oil pipeline. As we rode past, a man wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey large enough to shelter a small family threw himself in front of our car, asking for a donation to “protect the pipeline.” He seemed desperate but not dangerous, so I asked him to explain himself.

The man was a poet—he had studied at the University of Ibadan, but was down on his luck—and he was in love. “She stretches from Warri to Kaduna to Lagos, voiding herself upon reaching the tankers of the Seven Sisters,” he told me. “In Nigeria, Olorun owns the sky, the government owns the land, and the Seven Sisters own whatever lies beneath it.” But the pipeline—especially this stretch of it—belonged to him.

I asked how long he had been protecting the pipeline. “I have loved her since I first laid eyes on her,” he responded matter-of-factly, “she the pneumatic tube in infancy, skin like virgin silver.”

“But you cannot protect her all by yourself,” I said.

“You see that she has not perished,” he replied with bluster. “Though she is now rusted, burned. Everywhere Nigerians are drilling into her, siphoning her oil, collecting it in pails, buckets, Dixie cups even. Oftentimes the pipeline erupts, and the fires have charred her skin and killed many waiting patiently to fill their empty buckets.”