Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matt. 11:28
How can an entity as perishable as the body carry so much weight, yet in the morning, the eyes open like flowers and the body turns towards the light? The Yorubas believe that when a new child is expelled from within its mother, the first thing of joy for everyone in the room is how the child cries. My sister was slapped about 6 times before she cried. This is to mean that life is first identified by grief. I would imagine this place a strange horizon. The way a strange, questionable light pours over a child’s face, the way bodies gather around the iron bed with a mint green sheet to welcome a small tangible thing called child. The irony here is how at death, we gather around the corpse to use silence to cross-examine silence, the ones whose silence breaks into a writhing or a yell, the ones who throw themselves against the ground are the ones who are alive. I know someone who has mourned and mourned, & it does not tell in the way her skin opens to air.
The poetry of grief and body is often decried upon in the Nigerian Poetry community. We’d have enthusiasts hanging their tongues loosely on Facebook comment sections, asking the writer to attempt to stop telling their own story, to attempt to stiffen their own loss. But the body, this body which we wear has a way of reminding us that scars do not have to be physical. In Nome’s poem, the first scar is found in a dark room/ where the skirl of an angel’s hosanna/ heaved inside the walls like the shadows of a myth. After Jesus was nailed to the cross and had given up the ghost, one would imagine that angels assembled to welcome his body, to sing a lifelong threnody that properly buries the son of man. There, with so much grief, the heavens rent the veil. The science of grief Suggests that grief is capable of shaking us to the roots, and so does Nome Patrick. I pulled out my heart/ & searched for the knoll of grief/ the paralytic mound of an ache
A few months after my grandmother died, my father who was planning to return to the States, visited his mother’s grave. The grave has gathered some weeds – for me, it meant that my grandmother has died well and is blessing the earth. But for my daddy, it meant that his mother’s body is being feasted upon. No one wants to imagine their dead decaying. My father used his hands to clear weeds. He pulled hard at a family of elephant grass as if uprooting them from inside his mother’s eyeballs. My mother is still alive so I cannot feel the exact way he must have felt. This poem carried the kind of anger that bolted through my daddy that evening. Patrick, who has written a gallery of poems about his mother’s absence said in this work that: the truth is: even the sky mourns a loss. The diction of grief and body explored by Patrick in this work guides the reader into the depth from which the poem is fetched. The poet also argues that grief, as much as it is a communal experience, also is a solitary sojourning:
On my voyage/ magpies praising the bedlam of my body/ & every other night/ I set my bed ablaze to keep my family warm/ the lie
is that: no one hurts
I started to miss my grandfather in 2020, 24 years after he rocked me in his weak arms and sang me a song he wrote for King Sunny Ade. In 2019, I gathered the remains of my grandmother and attempted to bury her. Sometimes, memories are rags that beg to be rewashed, and this is why the poet cannot attempt/afford to stop inquiring of grief or the body. This reminds me that Passenger said in his eclectic song about home, memory, and grief, titled Home, that it takes courage to learn how to cry. We have a long belief that the Poet uses his poem to understand his subconscious self, what goes on within him when he mourns, how an owl’s eyes call the dark out of him from within a poem about being lost in a forest. When you mourn, you are lost in a forest, and your poems attempt to find your way home. The body learns from the poems that we write. It learns how the dead turns in its house of termites, it learns what the Lord says to the dead when it knocks on God’s door, how the angels welcome it into their home of glass. A poem about grief is not a mere poem, but the science of beyond. My grandmother would often come to me in my sleep, and she would take me to gardens I didn’t know she had, we’d weed and talk about her body and mine. In one of Patrick’s Monologues with his mother, he stated that his mother walked through the door and brought him flowers. In Miracle Monocle published in Louisville, Ernest Ogunyemi said I tilted the moon in a dream, & I woke up to a house empty of the voice of my mother. In Chibuihe Achimba’s the suicide of young idris, Chibuihe wrote as the flower opens its mouth to gulp air, as he (The Dead) defied the glass to gather sunlight in his palms…
In Romans 8, it was stated that THE Spirit bears witness with our spirit, and in this context, it is proof that the Poem bears witness with the poet, not the poet bearing witness with the poem. Poetry leads us out of the valley of the shadow of death or into it, or it drowns us in the still waters of revelation.
Patrick is known for his excellent metaphors:
arrow lurched into distance/ would sometimes split the wrong ribs/
/ I am cutting my Aprils of the Appendix/
that’s it/ that is the closest my fingers ever came close to purpose/
If I could ask Patrick a question now, it’d be:
Patrick, how do you fetch the language for this grief that finds God in his most desolate room?
In this poem, the persona attempts to fashion his own ache on its own. In this poem, the persona is lost, and chanting, Psalm 21 – The Lord is my Shepard. When Job was afflicted by the devil, he held so tightly to God. The poet suggests that the body needs a higher force to properly usher out grief. Do we perfectly usher out grief? But here in this poem, the poet breaks the ground of a conversation that the sheep needs the shepherd //wail coats its body where there should be wool. The poet, however, laments in Pidgin.
I sabi say even awa eden fit be sabotage/ & awa hands no go fit/ be
paddle enough for all the katakata wey the world don heap ontop
I know that our eden might be sabotage/& our hands will not/ be
paddle enough for all the mess the world has heaped on our bodies
Like I always say, a poem is a work of research. & a work rooted in language is like a room with flowers. When a writer uses a language that is natural to them in a poem, they remove their ribs to give the poem a being. The metaphor eden used in this poem opens up the sky of conversation about what comfort or home is, it is also the metaphor of beginnings and of creation, and of course, the entrance of chaos. This poem had a distinct destination and the poet built lines over lines to get here:
But no one should climb this high to healing/ & watch it
slip away/ Brethren/ the closest my eyes came to God was in the blur
First, this poem is about certain endings. How someone’s mother slept and did not wake with the beds. How my grandmother, after years of stroke, finally gave up the ghost in the room next to mine. The ending is never a happy place. You are laughing but you are shutting the curtains against someone else’s happiness. Here, the poet blasts his closure against my face & admits that it attempts to find healing in this poem. Healing, according to Patrick is a feeble thing: something that is easily lost, although hard to gain. Healing is like freedom and I now know why the caged bird sings. However, in the last line, the poem became Moses who, in Ex 33:18-24, was this close to God but only caught a glimpse of him. How then does healing build us an ark when the one we have gone to seek bolts past us. How whole do we have to be for this broken spirit to be accepted by Him? Is this mockery of our being? That the body is only capable of decay even while it still walks? That no one would ever truly find salvation from their losses and grief? That our memory would only paddle us into a storm?
Even the poet or the poem does not answer.
Adedayo Agarau’s chapbook, Origin of Names, was selected by Chris Abani and Kwame Dawes for New Generation African Poet (African Poetry Book Fund), 2020. He is a human nutritionist, documentary photographer, and author of two chapbooks, For Boys Who Went & The Arrival of Rain. Adedayo was shortlisted for the Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize in 2018, Runner up of the Sehvage Poetry Prize, 2019. Adedayo is an Editor at IceFloe, Assistant Editor at Animal Heart Press, a Contributing Editor for Poetry at Barren Magazine, and a Poetry reader at Feral. His works have appeared or are forthcoming on Agbowo, Glass Poetry, Mineral Lit, Ice Floe, Ghost City, Temz, Linden Avenue, Headway Lit, The Shore Poetry, Giallo, and elsewhere. Adedayo was said to have curated and edited the biggest poetry anthology by Nigerian poets, Memento: An Anthology of Contemporary Nigerian Poetry. You can find him on Twitter @adedayo_agarau or at agarauadedayo.com
Banner Image: “O Violin, O Angels” – A Digital Collage by Robert Frede Kenter Twitter: RobertFredeKenter (@frede_kenter) / Twitter