It is the kind of evening where the air is unmoving and frozen by heat. The absence of your creaking fan reminds you that there has been no power for a week. You sigh, it is Nigeria after all. You pick your phone and continue reading a book you had walked out on a week before. It is Carl Terver’s For Girl at Rubicon. You spend the next hour reading it, often pausing to shed off the growing sadness till you complete it. The sadness lingers.
The poetry collection, although small, is weighty. Reading it is a journey that plummets you down a slope of loss and pain that initially, immerses the reader in scorned love, rejection and denial. You understand this pain, but it is not yours. In the opening poem “For Girl at Rubicon,” the impending tragedy of the poet’s love is seen as he expresses his uncertainty in “there’s a fissure in our knot/… so I/ juggle this love with unsure arms/oscillating on what next.” The poet is befuddled by the rejection of his outstretched love and declares to Joda, his love interest that “I laid Oriental carpets for your feet, Joda/I was naked but you did not unclothe yourself.” This gesture of the poet’s unabashed vulnerability and total surrender for the sake of his love goes unreciprocated and continues to meet a stoic resistance even as he laments Joda’s rejection “…you turned your face away/ to avert my lip’s snail-walk on yours.”
The drudgery of the poet’s loss and denial cascades through the collection and is evident in “Aubade for Vanessa for Leaving Makurdi Without Goodbye” where the poet’s tremors of pain is expressed in his distressed cry, “But since you left/ the city developed sore feet/ Without you./ I cannot walk it alone.”
In “The Grim Reaper Came for My Lover,” the poet declares to an unnamed lover that “You were a brook and a flutist at the same time/your liquid eyes & music/were beauty tendrils that fell on my paddles.” The poet’s fond memories of this love prove to be merely transience and continue its stride towards loss and denial where he declares that “My paddles sunk.” The poem ends on a note of hope as the poet bows out his defeated love but announces that “But I believe my feet/ shall find another brook…”
The poet’s journey with you is redirected to another trajectory where the slope becomes an uphill. You both begin the steady climb, rubbles and debris falling off as the journey continues to the peak. The journey becomes increasingly painful with each upward step because at this point, the poet’s pain becomes your pain, his loss, your loss because his country is after all, your country.
Your memory is assaulted by a familiar loss in “Chibok II.” You remember the abducted Chibok girls who have remained abducted. You see the depth of the poet’s plea in the opening lines, you in fact, lend him your strength: “I look to you, god of schoolgirls. / If our wives are barren, will they be blessed, each with a schoolgirl?” The poem continues its plea, and you see the poet’s defeated rage veiled with more pleas, “Give back some girls/ but you are clingy – selfish god/ who likes his girls Chiboky, /who turn deaf ears to mothers.” The loss is gaping through the poet’s words and he resorts to prayers through “Bisimillahus and Our Fathers,” though his faith is apparently shaky as his prayers are rendered to “some benevolent god” that is unnamed. You stumble through this poem with a growing trepidation that reminds you of how much your country is wrought with a normalcy for vice. You can only turn from your country’s failed system and re-echo the poet’s plea to the villain, “Chibok, god of schoolgirls /Send a girl each to our barren wives mothers.”
“Coming for your Head” interrogates loss and the poet’s disillusionment in his country. You hear the poet’s tacit resignation as he lays bare his country’s thirst for unmoving bodies in “Headsmen are gardeners recruited by my country/ because she loves to pick red flowers.” The poet’s play on the homophones “headsmen”, “hedsmen” and “herdsmen” and “gory pictures on Facebook,” “wailing, maiming and death,” violently splashes your mind with the herdsmen/farmers clashes in Benue and the massacre that came as receipts of your country’s love for “red flowers.” You recall pregnant women’s bellies split open, their seed gaping on the blood soaked soil. You remember dismembered body parts littered on Benue soil like fallen “red flowers” plucked by the seething swords of herdsmen. You read the lines, “In Gboko, human beings become Goods Only/perched on Toyota Tacomas/ & Peugeot pickups – the fleeing,” you read these lines and the words jump off your screen and grows into the threat that sprouts a people from their homes and stack them into trucks with nothing but grief to weigh their tongues and loss to fill their memories. This pain becomes your pain.
The poet continues his climb, and you follow with unsteady steps. You arrive at “Healing Is A Dog Faced God” and you halt at the first line: “Nobody heals.” You realise that the poet’s obtrusive pronouncement does not only come from a place of heartbreak from lovers that left behind blotchy spaces, but from the heart ache of a country that has become a catacomb, where dreams are embalmed and buried. Healing is an illusion and has become “the road to a new destination/ whose signs of arrival /a child keeps calculating.” Your country is a memory filled with loss, and the poet declares that this “Memory is a tombstone: Here lies your healing/ that died with your lover/ that died with your loved ones/…that died with Eunice, with Leah.” Your country offers no balm, no healing, but keeps taking and taking until you realise just as the poet that, “Healing is a dog faced god reminding you/ Of your inadequacy.” This last line brings to mind Anubis, the Egyptian dog-faced god associated with decay, death and embalmment of the dead, and you are reminded once more that your country’s history has always been of death.
Your country’s history of loss and death continues through the journey, and in “Of Songs I Sang Here,” the poet sends a prayer to perhaps, another nameless god, “May the songs I sang here no longer discolour/ in the veins of nameless wars.” His prayers turn out unanswered because, indeed “The songs I sang here, of country/ are now discoloured. / From discolouration, Lost in the veins of Nameless wars.” The poet further reminisces over “old songs… that inspired pride…that the patriarchs sang” that has long become lost through your country’s flight towards loss, and these songs are now “long interred in bandages of pain.”
“My Country Has No Lover” is a graphic parody of your country’s unprovoked intercourse with mechanisms that kill her own and paints “blood murals.” According to the poet, “She is Open Circus for her Baals” where “She juggles killings. One time it was Biafra” and in this circus, “dismembering limbs is a sport” and these limbs can be conveniently “Dismembered for sport, for profit, for religion” or any other “woes of erection” that she entertains. Your country’s creativity for killing her own remains unmatched.
The poet takes you into his mind in “Sometimes I Need a Catapult to Aim” and you realise that this stifling chaos you call your country is also tipping you off the edge of sanity just as it has done to the poet. You also “need a catapult to aim at something” or “boxing gloves to punch at something.” You therefore, understand it when the poet says that “sometimes I go crazy…becos I go crazy I want to lay down my political me/ before I go serial killing.” You rage with the poet, literally feeling the heat of his anger coursing through you, so when he says, “sometimes this country /are train roads in my head/ with trains approaching, sounding/ their incoming horns, whistling/ warning. /I am on a suicide watch for myself,” you understand.
You have climbed to the peak at this moment; the poet has guided you through that treacherous climb and now you see your country through his eyes. Your eyes wander round the landscape the poet has brought you and “You think of dead bodies: /the red flowers your country keeps picking for her vase” and you hear your heart crumble within.
is a young Nigerian writer who is infinitely intrigued by words. She loves the magic of storytelling and chocolates. She draws her light from laughter and people’s stories. She represents the nuanced stories of people in her art. Her works have appeared in the 2017 edition of Association of Nigerian Authors Anthology, 2019; Bodies and Scars Anthology and Praxis Magazine.
Cover photo credit: Doyin Deji