Bí ẹ̀mí bá wà, ìrètí ńbẹ.
As long as there is life, there is hope
Opening the book, you’re immediately transported to Edwardsville, where you will now be spending some of your days transfixed within the pages; able to leave, but not really wanting to. What I love about poetry and stories, — what I’ve always loved — is this chameleon like feature they have, where they can mean one thing to me and yet represent something entirely different to you. They shift and morph as they move from person to person, but they’re not the only things that’re different, you’re a bit changed too having walked in the shoes of another person. Edwardsville by Heart is, to me, a personal odyssey told in four parts: Visitor, Teacher,Student, People,Patterns, and finally, Traveller. This is a kind of highlight reel of the book with excerpts of some of my favourite poems from each section and what they mean to me.
When you’re in a new place, with new customs and new people, things feel odd — strange. But some things feel familiar, and remind you, softly, of a home very far away. Maybe that’s why I like the The Preacher on Campus so much. Schooling in Covenant, there are two things I can say I’ve learnt and the first is that you should never, ever, under any circumstances doubt just how stupid one person can be, especially if they’re an adult; they’re bound to surprise you. You’d look away for one minute and come back to find that holding hands with someone of the opposite sex had become a whole new sin. The second is this: people would do anything to further a belief, they’d stifle the mental growth of children or declare jeans a demonic material or maybe even walk in the harsh unforgiving cold, shouting, but still hoping silently, that at least one goddamn person would proclaim their newfound love for Jesus Christ.
“…In the cold, he cut a shape of a bloodied knight
Daring the windmill of caffeinated youths
In what seemed a most unnerving kind of fight…”
- The Preacher on Campus
I was raised Catholic — and for everyone born catholic, the eternal rules of space and time are very clear on this: at some point in your life, you’re most likely to become either atheist, agnostic or convert to the opposing team, the protestants. The thing, though, is that Catholicism isn’t so in your face about the whole thing and so you have a lot of wiggle room to think and doubt. Prayers are said in hushed tones like secrets passed in a classroom while the shouting and jumping are left for their RCCG neighbours across the street. Reading St Andrews Episcopal, though, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes: women priests were actually a thing. I don’t exactly remember why there weren’t many, if any, female priests in the Catholic church — I had actually never seen one but every time I asked, I was always fed with the same half-hearted answer that sounded a lot like I’m…I’m not really sure either.
“…The priest was a woman too,
Helping the agnostic in me
Out into acceptance of a different way,
Out of the restraints
Of a stiff Pentecostal past…”
- St Andrews Episcopal
I never learned my mother tongue, Igbo. my mother tried to teach us when we were younger but even her tongue got tired after my little sister and I got into a strike and refused to perform any of the chores she asked us to do — No English, No Work. So, every time I visit Mr Kọ́lá and I see his son, Ẹniafẹ́, being able to at least say some words and count in Yorùbá, at such an early age, it really gets to me. With time comes clarity and with clarity comes the realisation that maybe, just maybe, the strike wasn’t my sister and I’s best idea.
Our languages are important, they’re the building blocks of the stories our ancestors told when they were huddled near the fire, telling aged tales of the crafty tortoise and his latest exploits. The way people communicate is much more than the words they speak, though, it’s also about how those people saw the world, how they perceived it and how it made them feel.
“…How do you teach a state of being?
You don’t. You teach instead tone,
Do-re-mi like music on the tongue,
And greetings and norms; clothing,
And where caps bend on the head;
Dance moves to restless beats that
Skilled bàtá drummers replay
When you taunt them with a semblance of competence…”
My mother and I, when I was younger, didn’t get along very much. It’s tricky to explain but something, I think, was very wrong back then. You know, it’s like a Rubik’s cube that you can’t find the answer to, but you know somehow that the colours aren’t meant to go this way, not on this side. At a time, it felt like this was how our lives would play out forever, me the prodigal son and her, the estranged mother. But life does this funny thing where it pushes and turns, pulls and tugs at places you thought possible but never real. We’re the closest we’ve ever been now, years later, and our love for each other is fueled by the simple fact that we, really, never know how much time we have left. Until it slips by our finger tips, that is. And then, all that’s left is the letters, warm text messages and tear stained memories, glowing embers of a love that would burn for, maybe, forever.
“…But where is father now?
What new relapses of mind
Can these texts from faraway
Convey, a distance from childhood
Where kindness cost nothing
And magic warmed through
Every part of a breaking home?
What could distance heal?…”
I’ve probably lost myself in Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún’s personal collection of books more than once, the titles are so diverse and from different parts of the world that it’s almost impossible not to. When hard times hit you, you learn a lot about the good times and how fleeting they really are, and so chats in the early afternoon over spaghetti and books, with Trevor Noah playing in the background suddenly feel like a different type of heaven — his white Christmas tree in the corner kinda kills the mood but beggars can’t be choosers.
I think that stories exist so journeys never have to end, not really. Every time you pick up a book, you’re put in another person’s own shoes and find yourself in a life so completely different from yours, yet very very similar. In another time, I’m Zahrah the Windseeker in an Nnedi Okorafor novel, searching and maybe finding my purpose in life. In another, I’m in Things Fall Apart, walking the footsteps of Okonkwo and facing the internal struggle of my own culture and western influence. And now, on some days, I’m Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, studying and travelling, in a strange country that reminds me, sometimes, vaguely of home, and as I walk through these foreign streets and see the sign that reads ‘Effingham,’ I muse to myself, maybe Fuckingham was already taken.
“… This plinth of time must serve as a totem to lit pathways
When the moon falls behind the hills, with a dry Western snore.
This step is new, but as of several aeons and several memories
Is old in the breadth of its pace, more than just a random chore.
I could ponder hope in alien lands, yet I shall not look behind
But inwards. In its charged spot are the loose moving thoughts,
Each breath a treasury of lore, new paths bearing known marks:
I live in a ball of charms which dreams and hopes have wrought.”
-This Step, This Spot.