SENTINEL POETRY #24   November 2004

Taking Life By The Throat by Emman Shehu
Continued from previous page


                                              I am walking
                                              I am talking
                                              I am smiling
                                              I am living
                                              But underneath is a chain of sorrow

                                              I am living
                                              I am smiling
                                              I am talking
                                              I am walking
                                              On this chain of sorrow, madly serene

Some questions quickly arise. Why the sorrow?  Why the serenity? The sorrow arises from the reality that destroys the illusion childhood innocence creates about life. Perhaps this is best illustrated in "Decades". As a child, dreams of the future abound:

                                              I too had my dreams when calm returned
                                              I saw clear path in my sand castles
                                              There was direction in my Sunday stew….
                                              Still I kept my dreams in tablets of horlicks.

But all that changes a few years later:

                                              Then I woke up one day
                                              And Western Avenue became a street
                                              Of burning tanks
                                              Fela's house became a candle in the wind

                                              The ides of February claimed a jewel
                                              Akokites sang slogans in the streets
                                              Aluta became a colour on our flag
                                              So I was no longer a child

                                              Now
                                              My castle is a mirage
                                              My Sunday stew a lie…
                                              Mother's
george is rag for worms
                                              Our fate struggles on the slaughter slab
                                              under smiling chandeliers
                                              and still the centre hangs on the crossroads.

Sorrow thus becomes a constant companion in the journey of life. This becomes a thematic refrain in   "Native Beat", "Malufashi", "So What?", "What follows" and "Hopeless-ness". The poet's persona is initially and naturally shocked by this discovery that "walking a Rose Road / could turn into a Blood Walk", or "That sweetness could ever wear / dark robes of sadness." The words "silence", "strange" and stagnant" feature regularly especially in the initial poems. This is not accidental, as a close reading shows their operational significance. They serve to highlight surprise and the initial inability to do anything as reality sinks in. But it is not a situation that lasts for long because the indomitable human spirit takes over and the battle of survival is engaged in every facet of life.

                                                Today I live among
                                                cocoyam groves
                                                wayfarer in search of seeds of truth

                                               But still, I wear smiles in my soul
                                               because
                                               life's not about
                                               the end of stories
                                               but
                                               an
                                               endless story. ( Endless Story)

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