There’s no caution declaring the beauty of Amatoritsero Ede’s poetry in Teardrops on the Weser. From the first three pages its seduction is complete, and we’re happy that we hold the book in our hands, the third poetry book from Griots Lounge after Echezonachukwu Nduka’s Chrysanthemums For Wide-eyed Ghosts, and Waterman. It is a narrative-descriptive poem serialised a to z of the Weser river of Lower Saxony, Germany. It combines a style of narrative memoir and flâneury. In structure it follows the epic, and the hero is the poet Amatoritsero Ede who begins his poem when he looks out of the window of his accommodation in the Teerhof apartments, number 58, in Bremen, watching the Weser River, as his eyes “becomes… a thoughtful brook.” When it starts, we imagine it as wholly ecocritical literature—“from what scattered river basins/ does the weser drink/ what gravity/ at the pumps/ with tap root . . .
as one spliced big-bodied water
coiled like twist-rope
a solid brown vein
through lower saxony . . .
But we are not ready for what we see later.
Ede first spell-bounds us to the magic of his lines and plunges us into a surplus of river metaphors in introducing the Weser to us. It is not only “a solid brown vein/ snaking/ through lower saxony,” but also “grounded rain… a silent concert of absent raindrops/ drumming/ settling/ into a muddy flood/ of tears/ finely strung together.” It is his effort to pull us into a ponderous state inspired by waterbodies when we gaze at them. As our thoughtful eyes roam o’er the Weser with Ede’s lines, it is a “frosted-glass liquid face,” “a river-brown translucent mirror across the land, splintering the sun and sending forth a many-fractured light . . .” This creates for him, and us, a contemplation on existence. We follow him: the tears he mentions earlier is of the river beseeching to humanity; in his analogy:
it is the weser mermaid
with fish tail
on sodden river floor
for her scaly merman lover
shedding turbid tears . . .
But thankfully we are distracted by Ede’s broodings on the river as his line of sight catches the architecture of “the gothic glory of medieval” old St Martin’s church. In his words he sits squared and stares drop-jaw at this sight, the building “throwing its weight/ down into the weser/ like a challenge.” This distraction lures him, the hero of his epic-structured poem, to what we start to glean as a more potent direction of his vision in Teardrops. Because this imagery, first of all, enunciates his estrangement as a foreigner in another land and, also, sharply depicts his sense of disconnection: the Weser speaks to him in a universal language the Gothic architecture doesn’t.
Although he distracts himself from this “challenge” by watching “happy idiots [who] come out to play” as they walk on the promenade by the Weser—“strollers, skaters, lovers, joggers, bikers, walkers,” he is returned to the unavoidable spectre of the church’s Gothic structure, which
wears several hats
of five narrow two-sided sloppy roofing
too high and dangerous
for children to slide down
because the skyline has teeth . . .
as other rooftops in the skyline shape into “the sky’s mouth… choked full/ with overlapping teeth/ nailed into the sky/ row after row after row.” Two poems by Gabriel Okara is reminiscent of Ede’s estrangement, “The Snow Flakes Sail Gently Down” and “Piano and Drums.” In the former, Okara describes snowflakes as sailing from the misty eye of the sky on an elm tree, whose branches
winter-striped and nude, slowly
with the weight of the weightless snow
bow like grief-stricken mourners
as white funeral cloth is slowly
unrolled over deathless earth.
Both Ede and Okara’s testament contradicts the aesthetic pleasures of the native lands they travel to, establishing a chaos they try to recover from. Ede’s situation is worsened as in the street below on the promenade, “wailing and sharp high,” a flutist and guitarist play their instruments, the music travel to up him; into his “window’s cupped ears/ the flute cries/ the guitar bleats/ plaintive strains.” Just as in Okara’s “Piano and Drums,” a wailing piano speaks of complex ways “in tear-furrowed concerto… coaxing diminuendo, counterpoint, crescendo,” where Okara is “lost in the labyrinth of its complexities.” For Ede, the music of the instrumentalists by the Weser “tug at [his] heartstrings.”
But all of a sudden, as he hears German trains arriving their terminals “blow and snort/ like prized racehorses… beating… their million hoofs/ on the roofs” like a stampede, we return to Ede’s challenge—the church—once more. This time, it is its bells that assail, ringing “in the ears like tinnitus.” However, it pronounces what Ede can finally agree with: the bells, at most, are
belling disbelieving believers
into empty european pews
bells pealing and appealing
to tired twenty-first century apostates
who traffic in commerce not canticles
as even on a christian sunday
the weser is
plied with trade
barges and boats heavy with curious wares
oppress and displace waves
outside my window . . .
But these distractions are not enough. As the day ends and activity by the Weser thins and night sets in, from his window, now a symbolic lens (he writes, “sober lens”) that re-introduces Ede to his history and humanity, in his calm and subtle intrigue of seeing the church building silhouetted in the distance, this hero comes to an epiphany: the gulf between himself and the church deepens:
when darkness descends
upon the deep
the gulf deepens
and I . . .
And when he rises the next day, the Weser, an inspiration for Ede’s beautiful lines in the beginning of his epic, is but a languid existence, “hungover,” “dull drunk,” “immobile and/ dead of current,” its “inner engine/ broken.” In these lines, Amatoritsero Ede registers his lethargy from watching the Weser’s useless, monotonous ritual of existence numbing his mind, only awoken by a similar scenery at home miles away in his native Niger River Delta. This is presaged by the “shadowy port lights” at night “dancing on the greasy oil-like flow” of the Weser; a “beautiful/ nightmare/ on brackish tides.”
At this point, Ede declares: the window where he watches the Weser from has become “picture-dull” and his sober lens. His readers, however, are sucked in by its turning-point sobriety, which Ede now confesses:
this hung morning
sluggish with memories
of dead water
on the niger river delta
in nigeria . . .
His eulogy begins. He doesn’t bring us this far only to wail—there isn’t the voice of defeat here; rather, he takes us on a beautiful journey in his adulation of the Weser and the humanity it hosts on its banks, wedding us to a glorious dream, only to shatter it. It fits perfectly into a structural analysis: In its epic sense, Ede imagines the hubris of the Weser as its beauty come to naught; as well as his hubris, as the hero of the poem, as the Weser reminds him of the nightmares of the brackish tides of the Niger River Delta back home in Nigeria.
The author Amatoritsero Ede, Teardrops on the Weser
This is the imagination Ede pulls us into. And his vision to drag us into the pits of history, to his homeland pitted against the Weser; his homeland of brackish waters where oil exploration by monstrous oil companies—he namechecks Shell—turn creeks to reek “of dead things/ and people/ like the ogoni nine”:
a hung boat nation
unable to swim…
strung short and
hung from killer nooses
[. . .]
the niger delta
into haunted silence…
the silence on the weser
a portentous silence
the quiet of still graves
sunk real deep . . .
But his redemption is the imagination of “only if”: unlike the silence of the weser denotes a prayer and wish that the Niger River Delta had a different history than the nightmare that plagues it. But he answers this conflict himself when he writes both rivers—Weser and Delta—were “differently/ plumbed/ by time.” This curiously returns us to the first lines: “from what scattered river basins/ does the weser drink.” Did Ede, from onset, begin his poem with a silent wish of the Weser’s blossomed history for his Delta, not “strung short and/ hung from killer nooses… shell-shocked/ into haunted silence” never to rise again?
He ponders if the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke ever drank from the Weser; as Saro-Wiwa’s sin was to “[pine] for the ethiope”—the River Ethiope—for freedom. This comparison casts a tale of two histories, of both men’s fates in interpreting destiny. With no more brooding, what is left is a prayer, as his forebear Saro-Wiwa must have once prayed, too:
where the eyes that look
becomes a brook…”
As he watches from the window, the Weser wending “its way/ into the horizon,” Ede reaches his hand and “gently pat[s] the face/ of the water”; his prayer remains, now edified:
“go water go rivering”
carry along your deep mystery
[. . .]
where every eye that looks
a thoughtful brook
It is the last passage of Ede’s eulogy, whose eyes are now a thoughtful brook, rivering—going with the river. It is his tears, too—the hand he reaches to the window to touch the face of the Weser is a teardrop poignant with the burden of history. And if he lingers at the window, his teardrops on the Weser becomes a supplication, ours too, for a different history, if only.
The near absence of mainstream criticism in our literature has hidden great voices and poets from us. Before now, I connected Ede’s name only to scholarship, a lecturer in Canada and other universities faraway. But I find in Teardrops on the Weser his incontrovertible creative power. Inasmuch as the poem is burdened by history, it is poetry to return and settle-in to for its masterful language and magical experience. Ahmed Maiwada’s We’re fish was the last modern-day epic poem I read by a Nigerian poet; Ede’s Teardrops on the Weser has strengthened my belief that the epic still remains the greatest form of poetry and should now take its place in our canon.♦
Carl Terver is the founding editor of Afapinen. He is the author of the poetry chapbook For Girl at Rubicon