THE MAN-CHILD … (Easter intuitions)

ONCE, AS I stood outside my house early one dawn, I saw the man-child playing in front of my door.

I called to him:

Child of Creation! What brings you here?

He turned around, looked into my eyes with his bright, warming eyes.

I came to visit the world, he said, to learn its ways and woes.

I left my family and people, and went to the man-child, vowing to protect him from evil men. He, however, did not understand my vow, for he was yet to understand evil men.

And so we set off together, to learn him the world.

We first came across the weary and the poor, and the man-child smiled at them; and his smile, like the sun, melted their sorrows away. He told them stories of life in the higher realms of creation; and his stories, like gentle rain and cool breezes, calmed them and made them sleep, peacefully.

As we journeyed on, the man-child grew into an adolescent. Then we came across the entertainers and singers. He joined them and began to sing with them. That was the first time I noticed that little thing which would one day lead to much sorrow. It was obvious that the man-child was a better entertainer, and soon the others became jealous. But because he was still something of a boy, it would have seemed very foolish if they had expressed these feelings openly. So instead they said that he was an adolescent and should not be with men. They drove him away. As he walked away, I saw confusion mixed with sadness in his eyes, and I did my best to distract him from his inner pain.

Meanwhile the man-child grew into a youth and we came across the workers and the farmers. The youth asked for a chance to work, got it. But his work was the most beautiful and soon he became the recipient of the majority of the customers. The fruit of his farm was also the richest, and in no time more and more of the market-visitors came buying from him. The other workers and farmers grew angry, envious. And they planned against him; and, going to the scholars and the lawmakers, they bore false witness against him.

So the scholars and lawmakers summoned him and he explained his soul, whereupon it became apparent that he was innocent and it was the others who had lied. He became a hero.

By now he had grown into a man, and the scholars and lawmakers bid him stay with them for they perceived a keen intelligence behind his luminous eyes.

He consented, and stayed. But in no time at all, it became clear that the scholars were ignorant and the lawmakers themselves lawbreakers, because the man-child’s wisdom was like a bright light that illumined all inherent defects, much to the displeasure of the scholars and lawmakers. If it became apparent to all that he was wiser than they, that would be the end of their position of prominence and their status. So they promulgated a law deliberately designed to ensnare him, through which they arrested him for being a stranger and a deceiver.

But before they could sentence him to his punishment, I ran ahead to the elders and the custodians of truth, before whom I laid down the entire matter.

All parties were summoned.

I remember that day clearly. Everybody was sitted except the man-child. He stood in their middle and he was no more a child, but a man. His lips were formed into a perpetual, if subtle, half-smile, interrupted by lines of sorrow and a slight furrow on his forehead that both told more than the bitterest words would. Tears ran down my cheeks as I saw what the world had done to the beautiful, innocent child of creation.

Presiding over the sitting was the Prince of the Land, their highest authority. He too summoned himself to the sitting, for no case in recent history had been imbued with so much intrigue or attracted so much publicity.

And voices began to speak. To accuse. But when the man in the heart of the child of creation spoke, it became clear that the lawmakers were the lawbreakers and the scholars ignorant.

The Prince, he was a good man, he decided to let the man-child go free. But the elders were afraid and the custodians of truth were no real custodians of truth, for they realised that if the man in the heart of the child of creation continued speaking, he would soon show that even they were less than they were supposed to be.

They informed the Prince that if he did not convict the stranger, then he would gather enormous power, wealth and force-of-arm, and overthrow the Prince. When the Prince heard this, his fear and ego flared up within him. He charged the man-child to speak again and to make clear his position with regards to this accusation.

The man-child, however, having understood what was going on, shook his head and remained silent. His lips were turned down. No smile played on them any longer.

The Prince became confused. Finally he let the executioners execute the murdering of the man-child, lest he indeed become greater then he was and overthrow him.

It was a bright, hot noon, the day on which he was executed for being the child of creation. Nature wept.

Hours later, I walked away, remembering the times we had shared. Remembering his sunny heart. My heart broke. Then broke doubly. For I saw that the people were celebrating the murder of the troublesome stranger.

As my weeping grew deeper, a Shadow fell upon me. I looked up into the sky and saw the Avenger looking down on us all. And he was not smiling.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

ODE TO POETRY

I’ve been biting like a volcano
Poetry has been crying lava
I’ve been biting hard

Stop! Stop bleeding me! Stop breaking me!
I want your nipple
Your lip, your ruthless restless tongue

Your thigh
And above it, your most tender secret
I want to reveal it, stop starving me.

The eruption was a corruption
Of merciful silence.
You should never have woken me up.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.
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TWO PAINTINGS

A YOUNG MAN. Alone. Poverty-stricken. What shall he do to survive? He has only one talent, much unused: he can draw and paint. He had done it all his short life, since that moment when he first saw the paintings of that legendary artist who killed herself as a young woman, long ago in the old Nigeria, before the war. Her paintings seemed to have torn open wounds within his heart from which, ceaselessly, it gushed forth.

Growing up in the mad heady dash to afro-modernity that was Lagos, he had forgotten to back himself up with an alternative education while following with audacious self-will his crazy passion and living his dream. Now he stood on the brink of starvation and understood her. But he also knew that if he had armed himself with an alternative, he would today in hungry desperation betray everything he believed in, and he was glad he had not. For this one thing he knew: he would never give up. One day, the tables would turn. So the struggle continued. And then one day arrived in which he had absolutely nothing left and knew not what to do.

Finally he mixed his last paints and, full of anguish, loneliness and a something else not easy to define, wrought two paintings upon two round, flat surfaces, and stood with them beside a mechanic workshop on one of the busy roadsides in Lagos, to peddle them, and eat.

A woman passing in a car beheld the two paintings and the hawker. In Nigeria, people hawk any and all things which they can lay their hands on. Therefore, the woman never even gave thought to the notion that that ragged bony pauper might have actually painted those works himself. All she knew, straightaway, was that they were masterpieces. So she stopped and bargained them down to a cruelly small price and bought them off him, believing in her mind that he must have stolen them from somewhere, thus whatever amount he sold them for would still mean a profit. She bought them for the price of a day’s meal.

But as she was driving away she chanced to glance into the rear-view mirror and noticed the hawker still standing there, gazing after her with a strange, intense, burning look on his face. Suddenly she just knew that he was the artist, the painter who executed these works personally.

She began to do a u-turn but before she was done a sportscar had gone out of control and hit the dreaming painter and sped off. He was on the brink of no return by the time she got to him, and then, after exchanging a look of unwordable intimacy with her, he died, in her arms, his two eyes open, still looking at her.

And suddenly she wondered why he looked so strongly familiar.

She hung his two paintings in her home, for she felt an irresistible connection to these her only connections to that unknown pauper. There was something about the paintings…

One was about women bathing in a stream…

The other was about women lying dead in the woods…

In both paintings, outside the woods, was a single gravestone, with an old woman standing beside it, looking towards the woods with a worried expression on her wise old face.

The paintings held her like a spell.

One day, another woman, one with whom she was bound by quarrels and disagreements and tensions, came calling on her for the purpose of continuing an old line of altercation and settling an old debt. She was one of her bitterest foes.

But then her eyes fell upon, she saw and fell in love with the two paintings, this other woman too. Her heart fell upon them. When the first woman still proved unable to pay back the huge financial debt she owed her, she asked for one of the paintings instead. With anguished heart, the first lady surrendered one, the one where the women lay dead in the woods.

Her foe took it away and hung it up in her home. A few days later she called to ask after the painter of this work, for it seemed to her so familiar. Together they visited his grave, and, for some reason, bitterly wept.

With time they began to call on each other more often, each wanting to see the other painting and to discuss the effect they had on them. So did their bond become mystic, the two women. Each feels an intense connection to the paintings and, through them, to the unknown artist who wrought them, he who seemed so familiar. Their feud came to an end, replaced by a sense of kinship older and deeper than words could explain.

Two paintings. One artist, dead and buried; but his works live on.

And both women still cannot understand what the two paintings mean, nor why they move them both. They only know that the artist had deposited more than just two masterpieces on earth. Verily, he seemed indeed to have also deposited two mistresses and peace on earth, and then departed. –

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

FIELDS OF LIGHT

In fields of light above this realm
Where sight and sound are one
I chanced upon a little elm
A woman sat upon

From far afar I sharp’d my eyes
To peer good at this sight
And soon came I to see thread-ties
‘Tween her and the High Light

She sat so still, she did not stir
Or so it seemed to me
‘Til I was no more far, but near
And then began to see

Than in her hand she held a flute
The longest yet I’ve seen
Which stretched gently until its root
Her small lips was between

And she it was who through her sounds
Was forming all these fields
Of beauteous light where joy abounds
And my heart rapture yields

These fields of light I long have passed
Yet never will forget
That those blessed hills, meads, groves were massed
But through that simple set

Of flute and woman weaving music
Healing broken hearts
And forming fields of light of scenic
Beauty for these parts.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

MY FATHER

When the rock was walking stoically
Through the mountain of time I was
On its back, and thought the ground was still
Beneath my running legs –

Restless was my heart
For I felt yours beating in it
And mighty were the loud congas
Drumming out my thoughts.

Yet there is one quiet thought
Too deep to be breached
Too quiet to be heard
By any but me.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

METAMORPHOSIS

THERE ONCE lived a girl called Vanity. It was in that strange country where newborn babies are left unnamed – simply being referred to as so and so’s first son, so and so’s third daughter, etc – until they have grown into childhood. Only then would their parents and relatives, having up to this time carefully studied the character (for early dawns day) of the one to be named – finally confer upon the child that name which they believed best captured the essence of its core personality.

And so did this girl, from an early age, come to be called Vanity, for she was as proud and vainglorious as a peacock. Vanity believed that the whole world was there just to serve and admire her. She did not care much for others, nor could she tolerate, in her vicinity, another receiving more attention, admiration and adoration than herself. This she simply could not bear. She thus constantly went to all and any lengths to make sure that the attention of everybody would always and only be riveted upon only her. Vanity dressed in the most beautiful of clothes, wore the most attractive ornaments, learned the most alluring manners of self-expression, perfected the most sensational methods of walking and swinging, and – being the scion of wealthy royalty – made it very obvious to the gentry that she had a lot of wealth to spread around. The inevitable consequence of this was that the world divided itself into two groups before her – those who crowded themselves around her and those who avoided her. Great was her pleasure, for ‘her side’ verily outnumbered the other side.

As she grew into a teenage adolescent, a spectacular beauty happened to grow out upon Vanity’s features and fitted itself around her form. Naturally this pleased Vanity extremely  and only served to confirm for her and her court her egotistical claim to prenatal supremacy. And at this point her name changed spontaneously from Vanity to Beauty. Beauty became the rave of her time, the talk of town, the object of the envy and idolisation of the women, the desire of the men – exactly what she wanted. Beauty wore her outward beauty like a trophy and used it ruthlessly to acquire everything she wanted, most of which she indeed also got. For people practically worshipped Beauty; they made her their idol, their goddess, their queen. She controlled all.

Such was it that by the time she had become a young woman her name had changed once more – and now everybody called her Power. Power exalted in this name granted to her by her fellow human beings and proceeded to have a crown manufactured for herself on which her name was inscribed for all to see. She became so full of herself that there was no space left for her in which she could continue to expand, nor could her bloated ego grow any further. It neared its peak, its limits. Her ways became stiff and cold, lifeless. She could not find any further height to reach and claim. She became an ornament herself.

And very soon her name became Rigidity. For rigidly fixed was she to the dogged attachment to vanity, beauty and power. She bore no love for other human beings. Frightening and strange became her ways. Rigidity detested her new name intensely and tried to rigidly hold on to the previous one and to thus force the people to keep on calling her by it, but the people, like people like to do, persisted in calling Rigidity by the newest name they had given to her. And the harder she resisted it, the louder they called it.

It happened that, at this time, owing to her persistent attachment to old forms, her health broke down. By the time she recovered, her face, older, less beautiful, remained marked by the deep scars of her illness and struggles, and there was a tired ring to her voice. And, for some unknown reason, the people at this point began to call her Lesson. They pointed at her and said: “Lesson, Lesson, Lesson!” And Lesson saw that they were but pointing her out to the new, young beauty in town and pointing out her own destiny to her too. Lesson was very dejected. Sadly she sneaked out of town in the dead of night and wandered lost and lonely, trying to put a finger on what exactly had gone wrong in her life. And Lesson spent many years trying to understand life. Many lonely years.

And during these years of her travels, fellow wayfarers who saw her simply dubbed her with the name Simplicity, for she walked silent and alone and appeared to do all her things simply. When Simplicity found out that this was her new name, it seemed to her that there was a hidden message and clue in this name. She then began to consciously strive to do all things simply, to think simply and to cultivate true simplicity of the soul. Finally Simplicity settled down in a little hut in a little village where she cultivated farms and gardens and grew to love children and nature.

The people of the village loved exceedingly this obviously aristocratic yet so modest, archaic stranger who had come to live amongst them and, inspired by her ways, they named her Humility. This name struck the surprised Humility with such great humbleness that she again, using it as a guiding star, started striving consciously after true humbleness and humility in her life, in order to become worthy of the name. Humility was ever ready to carry out even the lowliest of tasks and was never too proud to speak up for the truth when she saw it being denied, or even to fight for it, no matter how much of a fool she might appear in the eyes of others for doing so; for in her newfound humility it no longer mattered to her what others thought of her. Because true humility is strength, not weakness, as we all know.

The people of the village learnt much from Humility, who was by now rather an old woman, and gradually they recognised the absolute magnificence of the beautiful female spirit that occupied her old body – which revealed to them the essence of true inner beauty – and, unanimously, they agreed to change her name to Beauty! And so, for the second time in her life, Beauty was called Beauty again, but now for a genuine reason, for the truest of beauty is the beauty of the heart.

Many more years has Beauty now lived amongst the people of this dear and beautiful village, and it is Beauty herself who is now writing down her own long and eventful story. Except that now – now that this village has become a place of that true heavenlike peace and beauty which she has always borne hidden, deep, within her maturing soul – Beauty’s name is no longer Beauty, but she now bears an other and final name which will be the one that will be etched unto her grave tablet when this old, warm body of hers is finally returned to earth. And what do you think this her ninth name is? – It might be Service; or Leadership; or Strength; it could be Love; or perhaps Peace; or even Heaven. It may also be Purity; or Guide; or Guardian; or maybe it could be Mirror. Choose for yourself, every woman out there, do.

I am simply what I should be.

Emptiness always makes the greatest noise. Would that emptiness could learn to become silent, that it may be true and become filled.

Goodbye, Earth. – – –

The beautiful old woman died two days after writing down her own story; and when she was buried, the grateful village people inscribed upon her grave stone the single word…:

HOME.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije (from my collection of short and inspiring stories and essays titled „There Is Always Something More“)
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GREEN VEGETABLES

I remember watching
When I was a little boy
Hamlet
In my father’s bedroom
By my father’s side

He was munching on Green Vegetables
And I was observing
Sometimes him
And sometimes the television…

And he said:
This is the mystery.
You know… You see…
Why didn’t he do it at that moment?
Or
If he knew that he could not do it
Why did he try to begin at all
To obey his father’s call to action??

He shook his head
And munched away coolly
Upon his Green Vegetables…

And I was trying to figure out
If he was asking me a question
Or giving me an answer…

(for Daddy)

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE AWAKENING

How many times will I awaken?
How many sleeps do I sleep?
How many dawns lie still between this dawn
And the final sunrise?
Night has encapsuled night has encapsuled night has
Encapsuled night over and again night has encapsuled
Night over and over and over again…

Out of night
We awaken, and dawn
Is again the night that precedes
Another dawn, another night, another awakening
Lies on the other side of me…
I awaken –
Aye, I awaken…

Mantles of night, descending
Flames of light, ascending –
There is a last boundary where we touch
One more time
And then touch no more…

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

HAWKSHEAD

If Heart could speak on its own
Without Brain as translator
Spoke its Intuition alone
Unmindful of intellect, that imitator
What startling things, yet unknown
Would fill the world’s books?
What silent waters, from their deep zone
Would rise as bubbling brooks?

If there were Child in Adult
Awake, seeing, hearing, speaking
If adults would spare themselves the insult
Of hiding the child they in themselves are keeping
How different every day would feel
Refreshing, natural
With the adult balancing the child’s zeal
And the child making the adult more natural…

Youth, so important
Magic Time between two times
Child and adult merge concordant
Complementing each other like natural rhymes –
What you are in your youth is what you’ll be forever
Deep within your heart –
The heart speaks its mind but once, and never
Again from that path will depart.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije (Poems inspired by the Lake District)
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