Water and the Memory of P.

by Oko Owi Ocho

___

Finally, it begins to rain again, as the sky sends its celestial torrents, for the second—or third time now?—since I left Lankaviri in Taraba and returned to Makurdi, since March, chased by a virus. Water: it sings in the rain and carries an internal pitch felt everywhere and anywhere, specially as it awakens memory. Unlike the murky lagoons in Lagos ruined by the urine of industries, that flow in different notes and distort the temperament of memories; the rain maintains a harmony.

___

As the rain wets the ground, I test my foot in the water since I can’t offer my entire body to the go inside the rain. The water tastes like it is 2008 again, when I fetched rainwater at night for drinking, as was my responsibility. The moments were pleasing, always, because I thought of P. mostly. I always imagined myself inside the rain, professing my love to her. This dream was built inside my head, I think, because the first romance novel I read (which I didn’t complete) had a scene of a pent-up lover who broke the walls around his tongue on a rainy day.

___

As I offered my foot to the rain, splashes of water notes rested on my body. Their touch startled memories out of my head and the songs I composed for P. which I never sang to her:

I’m alone in the rain
I’m alone in the rain
Won’t you open your door for me?
The water is heavy on me
And the cold may slay me . . .

Writing this now, I realized water gave me the first gift of poetry. But the ditty above wasn’t really poetry; it was a song I hummed—a translation from Idoma: Owo yo jumi / Ofu yo nmum. So tonight I discovered how poetry had stepped into my mouth. And here is a beauty in memory: it resurrects parts of our lives we inadvertently forget.

___

When I started writing poetry, one of my early poems was written on the handbill of LABAF. It described P. dancing in one of the student performances at Freedom Park. Earlier today, I picked a paper I made notes on. Part of a letter I wrote to another lover reads: “I am at Freedom Park. I came to see Oris. I am worried that he may be too busy to show up. Though this place brings many memories: my first public performance. Era of my love life with P. My growth. Everything.”

___

It’s almost a decade now that I realize I had prolonged my chances too much to open up to P. There is nothing of her left in me, save a picture we took in Alakoto Senior High School, and several dialogues we had. She has grown. I have grown, too. Only the water has not grown too old to forget the songs I gave to it. Rain may always bring P. back to me; I will glance at our picture and read an old poem.

To the Lover Un-goldhatted by Carl Terver

Nine words: I have lost the magic of falling in love. My lecturer of African poetry gave reasons why students failed poetry or never understood it: bad experience with it by a teacher who may have introduced it badly to them, a known unfound fear of it, and the misunderstanding of it. But this last one remains the cinch for me: He concludes that to understand poetry and to be a student of it one must fall under the spell of poetry and the magic of words. To be touched by the hand of the god or goddess (of words). And to apply this to me, should this magic—of falling in love—return only when I’m touched by the hand of the god of love perhaps? Or by Cupid, pierced of heart? Or as Pablo Neruda describes, the sword of a ferocious love wound, slash a seared road through my heart?

I’ve taken a walk this evening to the road. Gboko road in Makurdi. My heading out was without destination. I couldn’t stay back indoors after so much time throughout the day in. I stood for a while and watched the road, thought of crossing it and going to that girl’s house, and thought about the 1000 word essay I just edited, and this piece of nonfiction I had to write.

Before the day became dark, I leaned on a wall outside the compound, reading on my phone an essay by George Saunders on The Guardian UK, wondering at how he carries on a single thought in long sentences paced by commas. A girl in the neighborhood I’ve only been observing and never talked to hitherto walked past me a second time. I love her legs, how she walks with them, with this unpretentious gait that is flawless and inimitable. My subconscious tells me I can fall in love with her because of her legs only. She has the skin a lighter shade of her lips which is dark chocolate ice cream brown, with sunken eyes that are sleepy, slashes where her brows are supposed to be. It is not the first time my subconscious has told me I could fall in love with her. But she has entered the gate to her compound. Immediately I stop thinking about her. I’m reading the essay. Suddenly I feel the tinge run through me, the passing wind of the waved hand of a god of romance, and I feel the need once more that I have to stop living alone, single. I feel momentarily what sweetness it is to have somebody in your life that completes you.

Then I ponder, at the time, who could this person be? I run through a number of girls I may like. Nobody. Absolutely nobody. I am transported to Waiting for Godot. Absolutely nobody. It has even stopped, when there was the spirit being—a girl—to nurse the sentiment of love. And write poems for or about. I don’t have to worry about this anymore. I’m used to living alone. Through atrophy. And inertia. But there’s an untold genealogy of this.
It starts with the tares the enemy of romance plants among the wheat of love. Potential seeds of rigging one’s faith and believe in love. Or an unfortunate episode in one’s life.
(I’m drifting from this piece of nonfiction. I only have to write about today.) And so I thought about only one thing: Is it dangerous to be alone, single? I didn’t just imagine relationships, but normal day-to-day human interaction. It definitely must be. And so, what have I done to myself?
I make a pronouncement to the lover un-goldhatted in my title here, the addressee, me. And what is “un-goldhatted” anyway? This word is coined from the poem that opens F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby:
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”

I want to find a reflection of me in these lines, especially where I am the gold-hatted lover. But there isn’t. It is only after I thought about my singleness for a long time did I know that I’ve lost the magic; I can’t love. I can’t wear the gold hat. Why can’t I? Is this atrophy from being single too long? Is six years too long enough? I imagine people who’ve pulled great feats in being single, people who have made a virtue out of The Single Life. No name comes to mind now but I know there are. So I say to myself: who are you stressing? Does Malcom Gladwell’s relative deprivation apply in this scenario? Am I finding ways to allay the dangerousness of the normalcy of being single? What have I accomplished, now, finally, that I may no longer be moved by the passions of Eros? That I may no longer be driven by the wonders of love that exists in the poet’s imagination as the constellations where he sees solar systems in a girl’s eyes, this wonder, this passion that was once ferocious around and around me?

This is where I reënact the lines of a poem I wrote about this: “My lover will find my missing pulse/ I will look at her & promise her/ Nothing.” Sad. Not the wearing of a gold hat, nothing. No bouncing high either. Nothing. No feeling. And as I concluded in the poem, my pulse has gone to a place that likes to die again. It is hard for my subconscious to admit, but I know it: This is what hurt caused. It is also what getting used to being single caused.
I have thought that in this situation I’d be vulnerable to any love that comes my way but Jack White comes to me in more clarity now: “Love is clockworks, and its cold-steel fingers, too numb to feel . . .” It is ironic that I am proportional to this numbness, the more I can unfeel•

Ode to a Drum by Yusef Komunyakaa

Gazelle, I killed you
for your skin’s exquisite
touch, for how easy it is
to be nailed to a board
weathered raw as white
butcher paper. Last night
I heard my daughter praying
for the meat here at my feet.
You know it wasn’t anger
that made me stop my heart
till the hammer fell. Weeks
ago, I broke you as a woman
once shattered me into a song
beneath her weight, before
you slouched into that
grassy hush. But now
I’m tightening lashes,
shaping hide as if around
a ribcage, stretched
like five bowstrings.
Ghosts cannot slip back
inside the body’s drum.
You’ve been seasoned
by wind, dusk & sunlight.
Pressure can make everything
whole again, brass nails
tacked into the ebony wood
your face has been carved
five times. I have to drive
trouble from the valley.
Trouble in the hills.
Trouble on the river
too. There’s no kola nut,
palm wine, fish, salt,
or calabash. Kadoom.
Kadoom. Kadoom. Ka-
doooom. Kadoom. Now
I have beaten a song back into you,
rise & walk away like a panther.


Learn more about Yusef Komunyakaa at Poetry Foundation

Your Phone Call Came To Me, By Carl Terver

Your phone call came to me

like a telegram wrapped twofold:

Surprise and needed balm,

dipped

in the waters of my tiredness

 

And if this water was rising

to drown me, I have, possessed,

Sweet talisman to swim it through

 

Dear Chinonyelum, your phone call came to me

like a well-trained messenger


Nov., 2016 

Makurdi


Carl Terver is a pop culture critic. He likes to listen to Bob Marley’s Who The Cap Fits.

Westgate, By Carl Terver

For Gimba Kakanda

~

Westgate stretched her arms

And engulfed a nation

As polemical shells burst-forth

Confirming another heart of darkness

 

My continent has been a lab

of the fruits of decadence

Strangling sons and daughters

Century after century, another card is played

on the lobe of history

 

I know this lobe, an imitation of

The remnants of an old trade

Outplaying in our time

That tea-drinkers can teach tropical

Rainforests how to grow

 

But the lab tools are here. No doubt

The pipette, the test tube, the Bursen burner

All inside a locket worn by crowned litigators

Awoonor was a specimen among many

 

In the fifteenth mile of the century

And our tale still seem goaded to the lab

The beautiful ones may still die

And we find ourselves back at the glossaries

Looking for the tooth that went loose

~

Carl Terver, b. July ’91, loves to listen to Bob Marley’s ‘Who The Cap Fits’, is a Nigerian writer and poet who have been published in Brittle Paper, Praxis magazine, Expound, and The Kalahari Review, and forthcoming in The Offing. He is working on a book of poetry criticism, Dead Images Don’t Walk. He is a comma disciple and fan of Adam Gopnik. His forthcoming poetry chapbook is For Girl at Rubicon. He is an in-house writer and the assistant digital Editor at Praxis magazine.

Not Knowing Anymore, by Carl Terver

In Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ ‘This Time (song), there are lyrics in it that goes: I wondered what might happen if I left it all behind/ would the wind be at my back/ could I get you off my mind . . this time.

The wind is oft at our backs when we’re in such contemplative moments. It is the wind that fast-tracks the process of leaving things behind. So that you can forget what the former place was like – not knowing anymore; so that you can move on and leave stuff behind. And as this happens, when you’re on the cusp of, or beginning to detach; getting it off your mind, there’s a burden that comes with it. A burden of memory. And sometimes emotional ramifications.

There’s this kind of not knowing anymore that has nothing to do with the wind. It’s weird how it happens. Because unlike Meyer who has the options of if he ‘left it . . behind’ or still, reconsider, you have neither option to explore. Instead of this you just begin to un-know and there’s no burden of memory but a lack of it. No emotional strings.

The feeling is not indifference, it’s not overwhelming – it’s just bland. This happens in subtle phases that you’re only at the realisation of it in the aftermath. It’s like going through a hangover through the weekend and waking up on Tuesday. And this has a way of switching on the philosopher in us.

So the philosopher in me ponders. How can one re-know what one once knew but no longer knows when there’s no burden of memory, or communion, to indebt one to the musing of that nature? This is how some things happen, strangely.

Strangely yet there’s still that etch on your mind; that faint glow of a once, now pale, relationship; that fading silhouette of influence that permeates you. That you were a part of something that in respect was a part of you; something you once knew. This keeps you on the border of knowing and not knowing. You want to know but you cannot know that thing anymore. Because your communion with that thing has been seared. You begin to un-know.

Or perhaps you forget because you don’t remember ever trying to get that thing off your mind. You lose the fellowship of interaction, that relationship. You don’t know what is like not knowing what you once knew but no longer know. It’s like the sands in the desert sweeping up to bury a time.

It’s not amnesia. It’s not intellectual. It’s about memory and the intelligence of emotion. Perhaps you know this, perhaps not. But how do you not know a thing anymore?

Is it the control of emotion or the interment of memory?

I lost my father when I was a child, fifteen years gone and I don’t know what it feels like not having a father anymore. Maybe this is the ‘not knowing anymore’ I’m trying to discern. It is the thing that happens to war-torn victims who no longer know how to feel, or the soldier whose heart has been scarred by battles? Or a man who has left God and no longer feels the fellowship of such spirituality? I can go on and on, and maybe you can add yours. But we begin to see a theme: an art of un-knowing such that the pain of not knowing anymore is not felt. And there’s an irony: ‘knowing’ not knowing anymore. The feeling is indeed bland.

And inbetween all of it, I think, we begin to not know anymore when we begin to lose touch.

~  *  ~

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Carl Terver arches his brows intermittently it has become a trait. He writes these kinds of pieces often and is a regular contributor to Afapinen. @CarlTerver on Twitter