VULNERABILITY

Waking up
Feeling like a wound
And for a second you don’t cover up your vulnerability
Because the world is still asleep
And no-one is watching…

You lie there, your eyes closed
Your wound open
And let your life’s troubles tear at the wound
In your Heart…
And then,
Just when the pain becomes unbearable
You feel the calming weight of responsibility
Descend like balm and bandage upon you
You know your role again
You become strong.

And by the time you open your eyes and arise
The wound has been stitched up again
And you set forth to meet the world
Unperturbed
Resolved.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THOUGHTS AT THE DEPARTURE TERMINAL

I will soon spread my wings and fly away. Who will come with me? Whom will I leave behind? What will happen when I’m gone? What will they say? Will the sky still be blue? Will the waters still bear sailing ships? Will the earth still revolve around the sun? Will they remember me here after a little while, or will I fade away in their memories like innumerable disappeared friends from once upon a time? But this is behind me now.

Have I broken hearts? Have I healed broken hearts? Have I quickened hearts and brought adventure into other people’s lives, raw new adventure? Am I a burden on anyone? Then we must part now.

Have I wrought damage beyond salvage? Have I done much more than can be remedied? Am I a ghost? Am I a thing of joy? Am I a precious memory? Am I still there? Am I still there? If I go, will I ever return? Goodbye now.

My life is full these days, full of partings and goodbyes. They come in the form of meetings, unitings and re-unifications; but at the end they shed their cloaks and reveal that they always were, from the beginning, another separation.

Farewell, farewell now.

————–
Che Chidi Chukwumerije
————–

A POET’S HEART

SOMETIMES THE night is so incredibly beautiful, I wish it would last a little longer tonight. Everywhere, everything is so soft. The night air is cool, soft. The vibration of the world, of my neighbourhood, has lost its harshness and it seems as though everybody loves everybody tonight. And I am glad again that I was born a poet.

I will live a poet and when I die, the world will say: a poet is gone. And if the world mourns, then I will be glad I disappointed the world and became a poet instead of a lawyer, engineer, banker, doctor, scientist, professor emeritus.

The poem that I wanted to write on the day I took the decision and forsook the world, I have now forgotten. Forgotten if I even wrote it at all or whether I kept it back in, bolted up in the hall of silence in my soul, where I continued to nourish it, and perhaps only wrote it another day in another poem, or maybe I’ve not even written it yet.

And yet, for its sake, and for the sake of a thousand and more poems yet unwritten, I disobeyed, ignored and disappointed the world, I dropped out of school, forsook a supposedly great destiny and became just a poet struggling to get by.

And yet I know, when I die they will say wistfully, with wet eyes: a poet is gone…

And they will feel it in their hearts. –

So poets are special afterall.

Sometimes the night is so beautiful and I wish it would last a little longer tonight, and I’m glad I was born a poet. Even when I’m dead and gone I’ll leave behind upon the sad earth a few lines that will forever move human hearts and they will nod thoughtfully and say: once upon a time, a poet was born… he lived on earth, he wrote poems and he died…
They will say this because poems don’t die and, in truth, poets too are immortal. None is so immortal as they that cook with letters, build with words and touch us not with fingers or lips, pictures or songs, as precious as these are, for who can live without love and kindness, music and art, but there is a special quality of perception that works wonders and magic within us when language, this device we so casually misuse and abuse everyday, is made into the container and preserver for generations to come of something that goes right into our core and makes us glad that the poet did not fail to write once upon a time.

And last night it was so beautiful. I was all alone and only once was I called upon, in the night, by the rain… it was at my window, poetic, heavenly, cold, sweet and temporary… it passed away, and took with it the last traces of the receding harmattan.

And I hoped the night would for once last a little longer last night, yet knew my hope was folly. Twice I slept anew, twice awoke, and the night was still with us and still so soft, and I thought of you, in the night.

And I slept again and when I opened my eyes the sun was shinning, the night is gone and I began to write this story of all that happens and happens never, but remembered ever by the works of the poetic spirit.

Birds are chirping. People are yapping outside my window too. Lagos is beautiful only at night when NEPA provides us with electricity and the fan or A/C is working, or else it needs must rain and the roof better not be leaking. But if you are lucky, you have a generator. Or a guitar. Best of all of course is the cooling cooling rain.

That is when Lagos is most beautiful. When the Water falls…

I thirst after you
Waterfall
I want to
Drink you up

I am
The quivering starving lake
Underneath the Souls of
Your feet

Step on me
I will carry you to your river
I am your horizon
You are my ocean.

The reading is taking place next Saturday. Who will be there? Nobody I know, naturally. Of course they will all think I know them and they know me. We will shake hands and call one another by our names and remember some incidents from the populous empty past.

Yet I know them not and they know me not. We are all strangers to one another. This is the city, where neighbours and friends and strangers are all strangers to one another, and the city is the strangest one of all amongst us, the laughing, mute, cunning, open, mocking, sorrowing city. Community of strangers and, maybe, one friend for a little while, once in a while. Baby, are you still my friend? Friendship dies in the night when no-one is looking and no-one can say later exactly what went wrong.

Why are people always staring? In the bus, on the streets, everywhere. They point their eyes at one and STARE! Walking with her, she said I’ve learnt to ignore them. Well, I haven’t.

I remember, many years ago, when I was a teenager, someone said to me: you’ve got to learn to either soften the look in your eyes or desist from looking too strongly into girl’s eyes. You confuse them. You make them think you’re in love with them. You invite them to fall in love with you. You seem to promise them eternal, warm, caring love with your eyes.

I smiled, slightly confused. But I knew she must know what she was saying. She was my cousin and knew my eyes and what lies ever behind them.

We went to the library, to check up on the progress and make final arrangements. I got there first. Everything, like almost always in Nigeria, is being rushed through in the last moments. The reading is on Saturday. Yesterday was Monday, full of freshly awakened poetry. Everybody full of new lines, composed in their hearts over the weekend, strutting upon the stage, playing their parts, artistically, as though it wasn’t all an act. Yesterday was Monday.

Monday, some say, is a slow day. Others say it is a fast day, hectic, with everything happening too fast for them to follow. It is, for some, a hard day, for others a dreamy one. Monday is an okay day, I guess. Afterall Monday is Sunday’s child. Beautiful, deep Sunday. Land of answers.

She looked charged full of energy, as always. We collected the requisite material, first from the library, then from the publisher, then picked up a part of the decoration and headed for the venue. We spoke of this and that along the way, but said more with silence and thought thoughts than with words, spoken words. We really are close, a closeness many people would not understand. They would think of other things, as usual. And miss the very point.

We separate along the way, and meet again at the sponsors’ and then return to the venue for the press conference.

Flow up and be free and be happy forever.

– che chidi chukwumerije.
from THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE, by Che Chidi Chukwumerije

THE DAILY TRAINRIDE

In the skyline grey
Memory hung
The future gone astray
Emptiness stung
Hung with reality in the greying city
The dying trees, the loveless pity
Duplicity and winding and twisting, reflecting
The beast in the best of the robots erecting
Their concrete phalli, their bull’s I’s, to scratch the sky
The insatiable itch, impotent ambition, try and try
And try as you might, your might is the limp cloud
The wilted grass, the lonely office, the empty crowd
The quiet madness, the gory glory
The daily trainride into another same story
The casual business of getting by
Between yesterday and tomorrow
A moment of reflection, gone, a sigh
Of something neither joy nor sorrow.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

AN OBSERVANT LAKE

Grasmere Lake

How much of it is left?
How much of the mist
Still revisits my mornings
Before my thoughts come calling?

From afar, I
Mean from gazing
Across time, it
Is a wonder to hold in
Your heart a
Thing that never
Fades, never
Weakens, changes
Never, teaches you how

To know the
Things you really
Love. They are the
Ones you never
Forget.

This carry with you as you mature
Measure with this everything you nurture
The camera behind your mind
Will click and capture
A lifelong picture
Of the things that slipped through,
The people and places that got to the core of you.

It will continue to happen inside, an observant lake
Like another part of you.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije
Cumbrian Lines: Poems Inspired By The Lake District.

MUSICIAN’S MORNING

EARLY IN the morning Egwuobi practised the minor chords on his box guitar, his best friend, whom he called Freedom. His soul was full and empty. He gripped the strings with his heart and gradually played, first arpeggio-style, then a-strumming, slowly changing from one chord to the other, one key to the higher.

Each time he caused the strings to vibrate, each time there arose sound from the instrument, a breath of calm seemed to sink into his soul. He did not want to stop.

By the time it began to grow bright outside, he had gone through only a third of the exercise. With a sigh he dropped Freedom lightly on his sparse, rough bed and arose.

For a few moments he remained motionless on his feet. His chest rose and fell, lightly. A look of gentle, dreamy reflection was trapped upon his face, a hard, rocky face with full lips and a strong, pugnacious forehead. He had an angular skull, radiated an intense and awkward, almost overpowering crude handsomeness. His observant grey-black eyes were turned inwards, his profile was angled towards the window.

It dawned on him again, like it did every once in a while, that destiny is like a skin. It wrapped itself around you even ere you arrived. It encapsules, encloses, protects and undermines you. Captures you. Teleguides you. It limits you. It links you to your world. It is hard to shed and hard to change. It lasts a lifetime.

Once again a wry smile was his reaction to this ever-recurring moment of recognition. A wry and sad smile. Yet it was a smile of amusement. No wonder snakes shed their skin. His humour was sometimes dark, sometimes light. He suddenly remembered that he had written something into his diary sometime in the middle of the night, something about train tracks, cocoon and the birth of butterfly. He remembered the feeling of the struggling butterfly. He reached across his bed, lifted his diary, opened it and read it again. Everything came back, the nocturnal stab of clarity that subsequent sleep had temporarily blotted out. It was the same recognition that had just come back again in the skin analogy. Now he felt calmer.
He emerged, composed, out of his reflection and went into the bathroom. A normal prelude to another abnormal day.

This was how it always started – with music, unfinished, and a startling recognition that would fill him all day long. This was the cycle of his life.

An awakening musician.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

SUNRISE

THE BEGINNING is the end.

Dawn is just about to break, I awaken from a deep sleep. The sleep was dark, I dreamt of demons and devils running after me. My life is at its lowest ebb. I am unhappy.

Tired I rise to my feet, slowly limp out of my hut, into the little dirt track dragging its way across the outer hamlets far away from the nearest, secluded, village. Dim twilight prevails. My head hangs and the story of my life briefly replays itself in my memory.

I remember the child, carefree, sanguine. The happy family that was its home, the humble abode that housed their love. The carefreeness.

I remember standing up like an impatient tree into manhood, searching for the sun, but my crown got lost in the dizzying clouds, pregnant with temptation. Then came the fall.

It was not the bacteria that killed my wife, it was the aching heart that closed its eyes to me, full of regret and disappointment. It was not the whispers of untrue friends that led my children astray, but the missing guidance of a self-absorbed father. It was not my friends who abandoned me, but I who abandoned what I could have been. Even my foes deserted me, they have nothing left to shame. Twenty years later, I emerge, destitute, beggar, soulless, lifeless, into the cool dark morning before the sun…

Dawn is for new beginnings. The hour before dawn shall be my coronation. Death. And should dawn come before, then let me start anew on the other side. These are my thoughts this morning, dark fruits of that dream. For once in your life be a man, and put an end to it.

Wearily I return into the hut. For some reason I wait until I smell it. Then I re-emerge into the slow brightening twilight of fore-dawn, a dagger in my hand. Why exactly have I come out into the open to do it? I do not know. Maybe simply because I want to die facing the sky, the big all-seeing eye.
Poised and ready, one last time scenes from my life rush like a highspeed freight-train across the charred landscape of my memory, then I raise my blade, firm, gripping with both hands… point it towards my innards… I close my eyes.

No last prayer awakens in my soul. No final thought. No closure. All I want is the deep dark plunge, the sharp pain, the flowing warmth of exit, the blurred eternity of death.

That moment when you are about to say goodbye to a familiar place, when you stand on the hilltop like Lot’s wife, knowing you should hurry on, don’t look back, yet unable to resist the last goodbye. It is the moment of betrayal that brings about the reversal of fortune. How long did I perch on the brink of that moment, looking at the end of my life?
Everything drew itself into one spot, like a raincloud, and suddenly it was time. I bend my knees, steel myself for the hard, fast plunge into the lightless waterfall. Did I breathe in or out? …

Dimly, as though from far away, I hear footsteps.

Footsteps?

Footsteps? I have never heard footsteps down in these deserted outlands, at such an early hour, before. Am I sure? Have I heard right? I wish to set off on my journey into solitude… in solitude.

I listen. For a long time I hear nothing. My resolve is not brittle, it turns around again and refocuses on its way. But, softly, I hear them again – slightly louder. Footsteps. Yes. Frozen like a statue, I manage to blink a few moments later when he appears… an old man with a walking rod, his head completely bald. I recognise him. It is the hermit.

My knees are still bent, the cold steel still points to me, the sacrifice, when he reaches me. He stops. He looks at me in the grey twilight. I see a look of surprise grow on his face.

Son?…” he asks, starled. “What are you doing?”

I look into his eyes. Within me something akin to emotion refuses to stir. Serenely I say:

“I am about to kill myself, oh hermit…”

“To kill yourself?” I hear the surprise also in his voice. “But why”

Serenely still, I reply:

“My life is empty, meaningless. I have lost it all, wife, family, everything. Friends, money, life’s work. With them went my will to work too. Now I too must depart.”

It is an odd feeling to speak into eyes that steadily grow softer the harder your words become. It is quite distracting, because you begin to wonder why.
“My son, are you satisfied with this decision?”

“Indeed, oh hermit, I am.”

He smiled, as though he were the keeper of a secret.

“But child – “

“You have lived twice the length of my life, it is true, yet call me not child, for I do know what I am doing.”

“It is not knowing what you are doing that matters, my son, but knowing why you are doing what you are doing.”

Thought is the enemy of blind resolve. Why is he talking to me? Obligating me to a logical answer. A trap. I cannot kill myself until I free myself from it. For conviction, standing on irrefutable clarity, is my justifier. This proud I am, and he knows it. I see it in his amused eyes watching mine, challenging me to convince him too. I mustn’t, I know. But it seems to me the last duty I owe a failed life. I want to die proudly. Nobody had ever asked me this question. I want to find the answer to it before I go, not for him but for me, that I may go in peace. Everybody might plain know what he is doing – but the deeper reason? Did I not know it?

I am a bit irritated by the fact that no clear-cut answer jumps out of my observant soul immediately, and that I have to think it out. It makes me a bit uneasy, such a simple statement.

My arms lower under the weight of thought, I raise them up again, reposition the blade. I wish I had not done that, for he notices everything, down to my thoughts and the movement in my heart. I can see it in his curious eyes.
“But I know very well why I am doing what I am doing, oh hermit.”

“Why, child?”

“I have already said it all to you, but I will flesh it out now, father. You see, I had a beautiful childhood, a quiet youth, the journey of manhood began well. I married a beautiful woman. I had no reason to stray from the path. But I did. In the beginning I had life, now I have lifelessness. I have heard that the beginning is the end, but not in my life. My life ends in nothing. My beloved wife is dead, she died from the inner loneliness and pain into which I thrust her. My sons and daughters are monsters and thieves. My people have ostracized me, my friends deserted me, my wealth squandered, my fame evaporated.

“Even enemies… Hermit, do you know what it means when enemies no longer concern themselves with one? That is the ultimate mark of meaninglessness.”
“Don’t you think you can start all over again?” asks the hermit tenderly. “Start afresh? Pick up the threads? Build anew?” His tone, though tender, is conversational, as if we were talking about the weather.

I shake my head, I’m not sure if wearily or angrily.

“No, hermit, there are no threads to pick up. There is no foundation upon which to build anew. I must go. These reasons suffice.”

“Life is a gift, my friend,” says the hermit. “Measure it not according to what happens on the outside, but by the forces within your soul. And there is so much life in your soul, my son. This I see.”

His words are getting too close to home. I am trying to block them out, but it is not easy. They are penetrant, threatening to inject into me a dose of reflection. Seeds of new life, warmth, vitality. But I don’t want the pain that comes with the warmth. I don’t want the exertion that the vitality demands. I don’t want the new thoughts of reflection that a fresh lease of life would bring. I am afraid.

Afraid. Surprised I gaze at this recognition, almost amused, wondering how and why I missed that point all along. Quickly following upon the trite amusement is seriousness, as I feel my consciousness slip into the pool of fear in which my subconscious has been drowning all along. I am afraid. I had all these things before and I wandered away, into the darkness. No. Let me alone. I don’t want life that will remind me of my sins, and demand that I atone, and put me back on the crossroad where I fell before, demanding that I choose again.

Oh, no. I fear.

Leave me alone in my pitifulness and self-pity. Leave me in my dejection and self-pity. I don’t want responsibility. My inner life is weak. I don’t want to take another shot at life. I might lose again. I want to die.

Like bolts of lightning, flashes of clarity, these thoughts, these intuitive perceptions surge through me, shaking me. Goodbye and welcome. He is smiling, the hermit! I have to face him one last time.

“Let me be, Hermit,” I breathe out wearily. “I am a nobody, a nothing, life has passed me by, I am finished. Depression and despair are all I have now. The deep clear confusion of seeing no way forward. “

“If you see no way forward, then stand still… but don’t plunge into the abyss.”

I shake my head. “I am tired… of life.”

Now he shakes his head. “I would put it differently. I would say that you have merely decided that you are tired of life. Is that not so?”

For a moment our eyes remained locked on each other. Then, without warning, he turns back to the road and begins to walk away, continuing on his journey. The sun is pushing up from the valley, the hermit reaches the hill’s zenith and then quickly begins to descend. I watch him disappear, the sun appear.

Now I look down at the knife which I still hold in my hand. Curious, but I’m suddenly wandering why exactly I picked it up in the first place.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije..

35,000 FT. ABOVE TAMANRASSET

Is that sea or sand
Out of which the jagged
Jaggered, the daggered mountains
Arise?

A sea of sand
A limitless band beneath my eyes
A voiceless voiceless sea of cries
The mountains and the desert.

I fly away, I don’t return
A heart, I beat, within a metalbird
I sit and stare
At the weight of all the thoughts that I bear
World without end.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.