(Being a review of the book Endless Roads by Ralph Tathagata)
Reviewer: Dagga Tolar
Book Title: Endless Roads
Published by: Image Books, an imprint of Image & Heritage
“This rape is not gentle\ It is more violent than a metaphor” [P.8]
This is the opening lines of the title poem Endless Roads, a first collection of poems of a poet with a voice that rings with meteoric sound capable of straying the listener’ away from meaning in a romantic confront with the rich texture of his vocals and sounds. In faithfulness to the import of rhythms to poetry, which can in no way be sacrificed, which explain why those who know the poet cannot but seek to share in the pleasure of his successful visit of his written words and verses to the printer in the issuing of the book Endless Roads. Now we can see for ourselves, if his lines can only in his own voice, ring with meteoric sound. Straight away I challenge us all to find out for ourselves by grabbing a copy.
This collection Endless Roads is an interlocking thread of love, poetry and country that throws itself up as a trinity in intercourse with itself, submerged in its between, are elegies and dirges for Gani Fawehinmi[P.17], For Cyprian Ekwensi [P.20], For Sam Adile [P.21], For Oturah Abalogu [P.27]. The poet uses these deaths to tell the same story of country at war with its own making, unmaking itself at very cost that the same people must again pay with their own lives for the failure of the country that they are in no way responsible for…
Let me first quarry at the thought of the poet on what he defines as poetry and what functions he saddles on the craft, in Dynamite [P.1], the very first poem in the collection, the poet informs us that: “I do not wish to present a bouquet of reminiscences” [P.1], not when the “…robbing us of all mindfulness…” is ongoing, he tells us, we “… will never cease to hear [the poet] voice”.
In Pestilential Voice [P.3], the poet announces his manifesto, when he writes “let me seek my strength in memories\And not recollections of events”, he does not intend to just chronicle, or play the dumb historian on us all. In Five Incantations [P.2] the poet we are told must “fight and sing” he therefore beckons on “… the moon to flow in our veins instead of blood.”
The poem cannot end, Life like a Growing Poem [P.28] sees “The sea of [his] poem lies cold on the stone of silence”. But the poet who surrenders to silence, cannot even end the poem, he shudders himself out of the reach of the richness of life that goes on growing the poem nonstop. In the Tears of a Lost Poet [P.29], we meet with “…a people\Hanging upon the waters [of their own tears]\...cry of nothing\...complain of nothing\...demand of nothing\...sing of nothing\[and]…listen to the silence of the gods”, but a poet must not join this league, he must cry, his tears “…must clatter like a butcher’s knife\And cut the fingers building oblivion”. In Forsythia [P.30], the poet must as “a singer” offer tremor and quake to silence
True “…a poet\ Isn’t a messiah\ Even though I have\Answered prophesy…” [P.14] the poet own vision of words in some cases cannot be enough to resolve some contradictions. In To Wole Soyinka [P. 31] Ralph Tathagata wonders into our hearing the question “why did Christopher Okigbo abandon poetry\Conscript himself at last in the Biafran Defence Force” to brings his own prophesy to fruition or is it in recognition that questions can be set in words, but the poet who seek answers must set himself beyond and outside of words. Can this also answer for the question, “Why has Chinua Achebe adopted such a cold mien on Nigeria \Such that he exhales dispassionate breaths every mystifying morning”? Is Soyinka, indeed the whole lot of the first generation of wordsmiths any wiser from a vision that set out and armed with the alphabets as weapon, even when in the life of the mentioned threesome are too good examples to demonstrate otherwise. Can we truly conclude that they fail their original summon and must now chew their failure at impurity, with frustration at efforts wasted as “cannibalistic spirits are still prowling\ In the corridors of power…” finding for themselves alone the “paradise” for which the rest of us must pay with our “well-being”.
But what type of vision is this submission to the purity of the word, in Ralphabets [P.32], we behold the complete innocence with which “children are practicing their alphabets” in the very face of the “sulphuric” desire for “the devil English”. “Alphabets are better than thunder”, the Poet’s motto to war is completely disregarded by the Boko Harem craze for vengeance for its killed leader Mohammed Yusuf, in its choice of bomb to unravel the might of the “thunder” of the Nigeria state. As the growing list of dead victims are but fellow victims of the thunder of the same tyranny of the thunder of the state, when alive. “Bombs cannot understand the obsession of thunder”, neither can thunder rattle the bomb to submit to its will. From the foregoing nothing is clear, the Boko Harem’s aim or the enemy’ aimed is not any clearer. Is this then the sense in which the supremacy of the word, the power of the poem over all principalities high or low is established for all times?
But there is a slip, which the poet in discourse cannot disagree with, “the power of alphabets\...[to] move… blood in the rain\[And] wipe away …tears” cannot be the mere practices at “alphabets”, for no amount of words without the vision to empower and will the people in the alphabets of the possibility of change, with the conviction to stand up into the arena of struggle and storm heaven in unison with the singular purpose to democratically share the wealth of nature for the benefit of all, so long will the continuous drift into an amnesia not cease. In this sense the poet without the above vision for change, suffers a fate worse than that of the first generation of wordsmiths, for when the country finally implodes even words would suffer the unexpected condemnation into permanent silence.
Does the poet treats the theme of love, any different from how the country treats the poet both as poet and human, I join the poet to offer no answer whatsoever than state that in Fingernail [P.14] the poet opines that “Love is an idiopathic neurosis”. This seems on the surface not to make any common sense, but as things stand love is the very tonic that keeps us all going in this theatre of absurdity known as Nigeria, and yet we are incapable of putting our head into love to begin to understand how love can still happens, and we go on with our live. We are incapable of thinking love through to mean love outside of the bedmatics of love making, not when as protagonists in this act of life we are permanently in the ill, the only mercy being our slavish surrender to the brutish reign and arrangement that allow us to go on living without a heart at life and without life at the heart of our existence. And so, the poet fall over with no choice whatsoever to Reverence [P.12] “…for sex is the prayer that returns me to the whole\ Reverence and again reverence”.
The poet does not be grudge the rest of all those out there, who so choose to make their conjugal vows through the generation of a gyration of pleasing and praising noisy sounds in supplication to a divinity. Indeed history is on the side of the poet, having not stopped count of how time and time again the Holy Father even outside biblical apotheosis comes down heavy with his sack load of holy oil in spirit form with a protruding penis in Holy Communion with the praying patients. Is it that God, is in the know of the therapeutic effect of sex, or very much like us is also out to validate his own divine essence or like the man he has been made to be is taking advantage of the woman to just offload his sack load.
In the poem Crossing Iyang Bridge [P. 11] the thought of man is not an inch outside of his own selfish scheme to unburden himself and “rain” heavy “downpour” into the “open gorge”, even when the woman chooses to be partner with the man and the twosome are together, in crossing a common bridge, always it is the woman who worries her head away about the home, about how in the face of nature we are so vulnerable, “it might rain on the rock upon which we lie”, this point of crisis and possible disaster is man’s own “hope”, the rain offers an excuse to fall the self on the woman, without concern whatsoever that the woman might just feel otherwise, or worst still, men we are simply afraid to expose the fact of our own weakness in issues in relation to the affairs of the heart. In the poem Broken Wind [P.13] “…the wind break\Without a word”, if you do not know what this means, the poet waste no time to educate himself further of his quest, in words that are not any less clearer in broken words, “With words broke in the wind …” . He can only remind himself of the “seashells at the bottom of the sea” and “If you deny me the coral\I will curse the day I was born.” In this self-confession, the poet uncovers the very raison d'être of men’s failures at word, men are scared stiff at being rejected by women, they would rather not broach the subject, even a poet is not any better off here, men gross over this failure of communication by just wanting to “jump into your bottomless pit” [P.9], this fact of “rape” is further brought home, when the poet brings us to the bigger picture of the country who as a woman suffers nonstop rape at the hands of a ruling elite who seems never to ever get tired.
But this elasticity of untiring nonstop rape by the ruling elites on the country is not there for the male in his forage with female specie to draw on, for we know what the answer is when we ask the question, who the first to be tired is? And the answer comes forth with no dispute whatsoever, and yet men, we go on saying women are the weaker sex. But this is just an aside, one need return to the central thrust of what the poems suggest both in meaning unintended by the poet and in meaning locked up in the reserve of the mind of the poet unable to grapple with the right diction to untie the single motif of how we are so dissatisfied with life, that we all seek outside of ourselves to become whole, the diversion away from life and the pain its pails on us, the poet does not in anyway dismisses Karl Marx’s “religion is the opium of the people”, he pronounces sex as a long ago in use opium, very much sociologically documented. For so many, this is the only means of validating one’s existence. So we rush at it, “Intercourse is esoteric” [P.14]
But if there are complains to be made in the poet treatment of the theme of love, it is to point out that woman is completely missing as a being of her own, are reverence by man is framed on fact that “her wetness envelops the seeds” [P.12] of procreation. We can therefore only glimpse love from ends that are in relationship with love for other purposes outside of love. This fault is not of the poet’ making, for the poet has only known one manner of love that offers him “As a breakfast of love for crocodiles” [Ashes in the Wind P.23] to be devoured. Any wonder why love for so many men, is nothing but a marauding penis, jumping into “bottomless pit” and women suffer a bedlam on themselves as “beauty screws insanity” [P.14], without any choice whatsoever. Are there no safe or sane penises to do the screwing of the beauties abound, must the Beauty outside of legend, in real life also be saddled the beast? This is one question outside of the theatre of love making and copulation, what the poet refers to as “the heavy chainsaw of sticky screwing” [A Night with Remi P. 9] that makes more meaning in its transmutation into a metaphor for the country Nigeria. The interlocking thread of love thrust itself into the heart of the woman and the country, and each must necessarily be self and the other at the same time.
Poets and metaphors are friends, but then who say they don’t find time to become enemies and disagree with each other spinning a confusion that cannot coast meaning to clarity. This explains why poets are permanently engaged in a war against words, armed with no other instruments than words. And metaphors come in handy as an enriching arsenal in this long unending battle against meanings that impact nothing on life in a world dominated by the blind rage of constructs that deconstructs the rest of all of us.
Let’s now take on the country, the last of the tripod of themes covered by the collection, which grandiosely offers a standing field for both poetry and love to play themselves out, by so doing the country dialectically growing its own self into being in the field of the others, for how else can the poet have done justice to the issue of love and poetry, if the country was not fully at hand, in the same vein that the other two also avail themselves for use by country to allow the poet to bring his meaning to clarity. So it is therefore not ill conceived that the same woman is offered by the poet as the symbolic imagery in her diagnosis of the country Nigeria.
In the poem Evacuation [P.4], she completely and freely offers her whole feminine structure to the country, “Squeeze my thighs\Open my body to the sky\Pierce me whole”, you cannot but wonder if this is a self-induced orgasmic quest or the rebirth so envisioned by the same crop of ruling elites, who in their “… demented wolves and carnivores cats” [P.2] clothing devour the country to a “carcass” and yet would not let go. What cleansing is this evacuation then all about, when we are gifted with same failed historical personalities to prey us further. In the name of a second coming, the messiah burst “Open … body [of the country] to … sky” to “airs” himself into our “… twenty first century”. This is where it all ends, the vigils for change to end the years of locust and looting, the price paying of incarcerations, gunshots and killings, the death of June 12, all these rich stock of tragedy and dictatorship. The poet is not fooled; there is a handover though, a “Bleeding baby born….\ Make a ceasefire”. The dawn of a new beginning is here with civil rule, we are on the move, to the same “… nowhere\... the state of oblivion\ Where tired Generals” lay siege on the “Ballot boxes” can we expect anything less when those that need be evacuated for the country to be birth anew, sit over the process/progress as midwives .
As if this is not enough the poet is not yet through with sorrowing womanhood, in the poem Crisis of a Widow’s Destiny [P.5], this woman of a country becomes a widow. Do we mourn or rejoice on behalf for this loss of husbands, one gives up the ghost in mid-act atop the bottom wound of the apple ends from India, another with a hollowed heart suffers loads on his lean structure the syphilitic sniffing of the entire rot and failure of the country of all the others before him, with face caking off on camera, yet would not surrender the saddle, flies out, creeps in under the cover of the dark in a lifeless state, only for the country to behold his lifeless remains in green white green. To be husbanded by a rapist of a ruler is death enough for the country, but the heart of a woman is an organ of humane’ construct that she cannot but mourn the death of her husband, compulsorily when as wife they were both partners in crime.
As a country, death heralds in new suitors of rulers who would not let Hajia of a country, a 24 hours mourning period before harassing her with a “a bowl” of promises and caring that would restore her beauty, resurrect all the unfulfilled and failed dreams of former husbands and enable her to wear her long sought after crown of “the Giant in the Sun”. So on account of these sweet words, the woman allows a new husband to come atop the cream of her existence, only to so soon plainly discover that the whips of guns employed by the former husbands has now been replaced by the scorpions of “Nothing but dynamite” to explode her essence the more into nothingness, in his rabidly ravaging bid to take his turn to the full in chopping the country dry and coast home with the award of being better than former husbands. Is this not the scenario that is playing out with the attempt by the Jonathan regime to impose more untold hardship on the citizenry in the name of fuel subsidy removal?
The agony for the country is an unending one in a journey embarks on an Endless Roads. This is the title poem, and the first line commends itself to a fitting summary for the hollowed state of the country. The poet friendship with metaphor is threaten by violence that forces the latter to want to scarper but what choice do words have than to in the end submit themselves for use by the poet. The “… rape[on the country] is not gentle\ It is more violent than a metaphor” [P.8], this is on account of more ingenious ways employed by the new rulers to arrive at the same end of leaving the country prostrate.
“Nigeria are you a criminal or a martyr”, the rapist/victim being addressed, interestingly in official records, the rapists who died in office are nothing but national heroes, even the criminal of a General who fathered the destruction of his own widow first born in an air mishap to guarantee for his own first born the inheritance of his accumulated loots, earns a national burial with flag at half-mast befitting of a status of a martyr. Who then is the criminal? Is the victim, who gets “… dragged on the street\And violated in [her] pubic hair] and dangles an “axe” at our “throats” and “chopped-off [our] voice”. To say there are more questions than answers is to surrender to a cliché, when in actual fact what need to be said is that in Endless Roads, poetry indeed becomes a question, not begging for an answer for there are no answers to be sought on the pages of the memories, the sad memories of an unending tragedy, when the question posed is the country Nigeria, a country so seemingly incapable of going beyond the means of the alphabets of words phrasing the question, “When will you change” or is this a question that poetry or the elites can pose and fail, for change and transformation of society demands nothing short of a revolution organized and lead by the oppressed and suffering working masses in a struggle to dump neo-liberalism in the “dust bin of history” and replace it with an economic arrangement that nationalize the commanding heights of economy under the democratic management of the working people .