I remember how satisfying it felt feeding on J.P Clark’s poem Ibadan back then in secondary school. Twenty words was all it took for the poem to gift my mind a first-class flight to that famed city.
When I am presented with the opportunity to eat good poetry, I do so with relish, happy to slowly lick the delicious lines off my fingers as the stanzas stretch my belly to a bigger mound.
In Nigeria, dinner is the heaviest meal and in most households, it is the time both adults and children sit to enjoy a common meal spiced with all manner of delicacies. At the table, the professor of nutrition, the skilful cook, the prim and proper teenager, and the innocent little child all access the deliciousness of the meal at some level.
Great poetry is like dinner.
Hymar’s Dusk Dirge treats us to an unconventional style of eating poems. On the surface, it lacks the prettiness of standard poetry and seems robbed of the potential to make us lick our lips with satisfaction.
We ignore the cockrel’s wake up crow, ignore the sun slating through leaking roofs onto our faces. We dream on. Of monstrously huge mansions, armed convoys and better tomorrows.
The Nigerian Dream.
We are not asked to lick each sentence with the extended breaks of normal poetry. No. The poem pulls us along by the power of its form, assuring us that we need not worry, that the panorama of the whole is many times more vivid than the sum of each shot. So as one ball of yam slides down our throats in tandem with our rapid licking of fingers, we come to realize that what this sweet meal is telling us is a bitter truth: the Nigerian Dream is unlike any other. It is a selfish hope for a better tomorrow that feeds on the aggrandizement of power and material wealth at the expense of others. We suddenly realize that the Nigerian dream is unmindful of the warnings from the cockerels—the authentic activists, the upright religious leaders, the so termed revolutionaries and all others who sacrifice their sleep and safety to warn us of the dangers that will come if the cracks in our leaking roofs aren’t mended.
We wake to bruised dreams clinging like milk jars on the edge of a creaky-legged table,we wake to the sound of digging, mass graves for hollowed out smiles , for stiffled hopes and deflated dreams…
We are on to another ball of yam, slowly dabbing it in the soup as we begin to understand that this is not a heavy meal to be enjoyed and then forgotten. As our tongue guides this particular mound into our belly, our mind connects with the message it brings: there will be repercussions for dreaming irresponsibly. We will wake up to a disappointing reality, to a house flooded with the destruction we didn’t take the time to plan against. We will wake to a time when the Nigerian Dream will be a corpse that carries our smiles and all the good things we ever hoped for, to the grave. And we will be the undertakers, the ones working the diggers and shovels.
We keep eating, exploring the other sides to the poem—the times when we wake to moonshine and birdsong, to calm breeze and ecstatic village voices—we imagine that there is something wrong, something we can do to continuously live out these good sides. We resolve to go to bed with a different kind of satisfaction. Not the type that makes us snore with abandonment, with blank visions. We decide we will sleep with our rotund bellies, on this night, dreaming of a time when our dreams of better tomorrows will have a human face.
But that will not be the only dream. We get to eat Hymar’s On the Death of a Beautiful Woman, that swims in the remaining soup.
She leaves, yet lives in our sad hearts,
She has not played all her parts
But her days are done and she’s gone;
Her beauty fades to rot and bone.
It is amazing how nicely chopped each piece of meat is, how great every one tastes (I wish, though, that ‘bone’ rhymed perfectly with ‘gone’). Leaves and lives in Line 1 are beautiful homonyms that work an intense picture of ache. The next line follows with a perfect connection to the former, and the third assures us that even though the woman’s contributions to mankind are not complete, her time must surely be up for God to have summoned her home at this time. The last line echoes the sadness Hymar feels: he knows that the beauty of her life, her form, now slowly descends to the ugly plains of skeletons and putrefaction.
No more to cuddle tiny Paul,
To respond to His midnight toll,
Though she smiles still, even in death,
That smile will never light the earth.
And the streak of eating nicely chopped meat continues, the sweetness not dropping in intensity. But like the main dish, we are reminded of what sweetness is supposed to accomplish: a deeper connection with Hymar’s sadness on losing a beautiful woman to the ever cold hands of death. However, unlike the former poem, he wants us to understand the beauty of the life she lived, through the lens of a poem that is perfect in form and rhythm while still rich in content; he wants us to grieve with him as he lets us know that the beautiful smiles of this woman that lit the earth before, will never do so again.
There is one more meat left in the bowl. It is not shaped like the others and is much smaller. We pick it up and throw it in our mouths knowing well that we will enjoy it as the others. She’s gone this last piece of meat tells us as it journeys down our throats away from existence, leaving with us a strong reminder that—like the last two words of this poem, like the last piece of meat completing the disappearance of dinner—we all, someday, as this beautiful woman, shall be gone from this earth, never to pay a visit again.