Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
Welcome to Heavensgate, brother Pius. I am glad to see you after many
years of yearning and pleased to hear that you lived a worthwhile life.
A lot of water had passed through Niger Bridge since we last saw each
other. I had been itching to talk to you, my brother, for you were there
when this bug caught me. My transformation from a hunter of answers into
a big question mark had left me restless. I heard that finally, I might
be getting a burial, but isn’t it rather late? I have become an
invisible poet; no hole is big enough to keep me grounded. I float above
I have listened carefully to you and I want to address you about the
things I have heard. I have heard people quote Edward Said. I have heard
them say that I am a victim of that pitfall- a casualty of paranoid
nationalism. They say that I compromised intellectual integrity. Some
even said I subjected my art to the narrowness of tribalism. O’ Lord! I
ask, what use is a poet if he saves his life, only to be left for a
home- a “cultural wasteland”? Should I be happy as strangers serve eke
Idemili for dinner?
William Blake said it first, and I can’t say it enough: the nation
follows the art. That is just the way it is. Cultural erosion is not the
same as cultural handshake. Dante’s universal community must wait if it
is arrogant about appreciating the gift of each quilt. Remember what I
said before, ‘we carry in our worlds that flourish, our worlds that
failed.’ You can resort to using learning to liberate people. But is
what you are learning the truth? If it is, do you have the means of
understanding it? Have those in the school of resentment moved over?
You asked me when I last thought about the dialectic of utopia and
ideology as part of a unified political consciousness. I say, it is all
in seduction. It always comes first. Then it is struggle. It always
exerts cost. And finally, it is memory. Memories of the worlds that
failed and the worlds that succeeded. As I see it, it is either you are
looking behind the rising sun or you are looking in front. I am
searching. I am still searching. But I am yet to find the argument that
supersedes the moral value.
Those searching for a reason to remain cowards have tried me in my
absence. They proceeded to tell me who I am and where I came from. They
tell me to whom my allegiance should be as if they were there when the
good Lord chose Ojoto. They want the poet in their pocket even when it’s
full of dirt. They forgot I mapped the path of thunder. They forgot.
My brother, tell them this. Tell them to keep their semantics to
themselves. I am a testament to the heart of that lynched dream. This
shred of history coming out of a temporary insanity shall grow into a
monster, a monster of which no grace can reprieve. To you all, I say, I
beg your indulgence, if I may. I beg your indulgence to die for my
people. Yesterday, you were all my people. Then someone broke the
continuity and there burst our moral inferno. And there I found my
essence. Those who disagree, those who want the alter boy to ignore the
subpoena, those not total in their dedication would be the acrobatic
peers when the dance of death resumes.
When I sew up words, I was true to my art. I was true to the images
jogging round my divided soul. When my shrine was assaulted, the place
where my soul took root, I answered the call. I answered my father’s
name. I took in the lead. Mine was a war of honour and the gown of glory
I wear. You are beyond redemption all you who think about embrace while
desecration turns your nursery of lyrics into a tomb of defiled indigos.
My wrath was the wrath of Idoto. And so it shall remain until Idoto
hears an apology and accepts the apology. And I know Idoto. Idoto will
not accept an empty apology.
I know you. You prefer to forget. You prefer to bury alive, the horrors
and the inhumanity. But I tell you my friends; the guilt shall keep
popping up like a balloon buried in a pond. So, do not give me pathos
for I have no self-pity. If you really want to remember, stop being
resigned. Be rejuvenated in heart. Don’t sit to lament. Rather prepare
for landing. Prepare, for we are going to touch down in no distant time.
I am now an invisible poet and I tell you this: the only place where
your illusion should come before my struggle is in the obituary page. As
long as your illusion continues to disturb, my struggle must continue to
assure. You can detest me the more if you like. But here I stand,
invisible to your eyes. The same spot your history said I fell.
Can I ask you some questions? Have they stopped being pretty? I mean,
the rulers of your illusion? Have they stopped getting away with
anything? Are they still holding you down? Are they? I don’t think so.
If you were truly down, if they really stood on your way, you would have
done something. For that is what men do. That was what our fathers did.
Or have you all become like them? Have you begun to wear agbada, melt
your ulis and pick some from the Ohas that we have always been and turn
them into ezes? Ohaneze? Have you?
Ah! I know what you are thinking. Christopher Okigbo is frozen in time.
Christopher Okigbo is unrepentant. No need holding on to dreams, dreams
no longer needed. No need singing a song already retired. You are right.
I can’t repent. I can’t repent in my grave. I can’t rapture. I can’t
rapture without a burial. How I wish you all knew that madness awaits
the poet who turns his back. This has been my motto. If my struggle is
evil, let me try it. It is one evil I want to taste. The other evil,
your illusion, I am used to.
Our journey is at the point where darkness makes up our four walls.
Invisible is the road. Slippery is our steps. But if you open your ears,
you shall hear the voices of the poets. If you wipe your nose, you shall
smell the roses. Open your mind and you shall think great thoughts. Of
pavements lined with smooth pebbles, of soft rain and sweet laughter of
birds. That garden is out there. One struggle away. One step out of this
Brother, I heard them. I heard them very well. I am glad they did not
say the poet lied. They only said the poet was diminished when he
refocused his lens. To them I say, when the fatherland becomes the
murderland; when I and I are expunged from the we; it is the
responsibility of the poet, the poet who have warned about the coming
thunder to drop the pen and pick the gun. The poet would be lying if he
failed to transform himself from a preacher to a participant.
Some people said a woman’s honour is her virginity. If by fighting, a
poet turns into a woman, let it be said that I took my own virginity. I
deserve honour too. And I am glad that my friend, Soyinka agreed. Who
cares what the Mazruis had to say. If I had not fought, I would have
been called an impotent man who seduced a beautiful bride and left her
there for the vultures to eat. I know you all. Nothing satisfies you.
But I am glad I hover around, beyond your reach for I am now an
You may be right, my brother Pius, I am a restless spirit. I probably
need to be buried. But I tell you this; there are two kind of truths;
the one you want to hear and the one you do not want to hear. It is the
one you do not want to hear that will set you free. My struggle was a
temptation brought on my people, we should not let the temptation
conquer us. I agree. But have you ever thought that what you believe may
not be true? That what you want may not be really good? I have. And I
know that sometimes, people follow what is convenient thinking that they
are following what is right.
So remind them my brother what Theodore Roosevelt said. Remind them that
“it is not the critics who counts… it is not the man who points out how
the strong man stumbled… credit belongs to the man who really was in the
arena, his face marred by dirt, sweat and blood, who strives valiantly,
who errs to come up short and short again, because there is no effort
without error or shortcoming. It is the man who actually strives to do
deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and great devotion, who spreads
himself on a worthy cause, who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails
while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold
and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
You may be right, my brother. I am being consumed by love that I have.
But I am not pretending to be angry. Until you let the dead bury their
dead, you will never know what happened to your victory. Please send
this across to them. It is my apology. It is all that I have to offer
until I am buried. Until, I step out of this purgatory and walk into
heaven where Virgin Mary awaits me.
'My Apology Brother Pius' is excerpted from Okonkwo's "Children of a