By Charles Dickson
“An Ode To Death”
Your ode to death is in the lifting of a single eyebrow. Lift it and see. (Conrad Aiken)
Death is more than certain, says e.e Cummings,
But the clocks go on ticking as before
And in every particle of carbon dust
There lives a diamond dream
How many galaxies yet to be explored-
How many seeds in the pomegranate of time?
The pine tree blasted by last year’s Thunderbolt
And the burn out match stick in my ashtray
Look so terribly alike
I have sat by your bedside and felt
Your sinking pulse. Are the hair and bones
Really indestructible and how long
Does it take for the eyes
To dissolve in the grave?
Two streams mingle in a forgotten river.
Between the eye and the tear
There is the archipelago of naked rocks
Only sleep and silence there-
No anchorage for grief.
I, too, have wandered in a forest of symbols
And clutched at the harlots of memory.
I have seen the “stars plummet to their dark addresses”
I have felt your absence around my neck
But let bygones be bygones
Who was the deceiver and who the deceived
Was I on a floating island
And were you on the shore?
Which one of us moved away?
Do you know about Nigeria’s train number x? The train of death, that train that has seen countless innocent lives cut short by avoidable deaths. That train that has been on the Kaduna—Abuja expressway killing many as a result of bad roads, that train plies roads in Lokoja, Zaria, Ibadan/Lagos, Benin/Ore, Bauchi/Gombe and countless patches of the Jos/Kaduna and many other roads.
Train number x brought down an Airforce fighter jet down, and we saw tapes of the killings of men whose only sin was to protect Nigeria’s territorial integrity, after several denials, including tales by moonlight how the vegetation in the Boko made video did not fit sambisa. Eleven months later plane wreckage was found, indeed a nation.
Life is cheap, an ode to death, death in my beloved Nigeria is even cheaper, as unknown numbers are dead from the bombing of a train, flags do not fly at half, quarter or any mast, countless missing or rather abducted after official accounts stated all had been saved unharmed in a week a minister declared the country was safer; in a nation that governing party compares death toll with opposition politicians.
Conrad Aiken says that “Your ode to death is in the lifting of a single eyebrow. Lift it and see”, just as Dr. Chinelo on that train and many more painfully closed their eyebrows.
An ode to death is a short poem about the universal approach of death. Death is the central focus of the poet. In one breath we are born, in another we die, it is supposedly a mystery, but, in my motherland, death isn’t a mystery, you travel by road you die, you go by train you die, and then you fly—ask those in the plane when the Kaduna airport was attacked whether they are alive as airlines suspends flights there.
Hours after train number x attack, station x was attacked, airport x had been attacked, and the Zuma x barracks lost several soldiers while in faraway Kebbi policemen guiding a factory were killed. In our ode to death, we whine, blame, curse and hate, while truth is we cannot get by the train when leadership is seemingly rudderless, when non-state actors’ inch by inch have taken up spaces from the government.
I have a friend who has been under the weight of loan sharks, his two relatives (including a pregnant sister-in/law) has been in the custody of gunmen, bandits and terrorists (shamelessly we are afraid of how to categorize them) for five months and counting. The family has been using an Abuja based negotiator as state power has completely failed! The relatives are held in two different locations in Kaduna and Niger states.
Yet, the horse trading, sickening political hullabaloo and carroting, travel peppersouping and frolicking continues by-would-be-2023-leaders. While today death laughs at a nation. The Trade Union Council, the Nigerian Bar Association, the Medical Corp lost members, and are still losing their members, orphans, widows and widowers are the result of these deaths, as more and more souls spit bitter and black blood on the Nigerian construct that many of us believe in.
In this poem “An Ode to Death” the theme of decay and decline is given. Not only human beings are subject to death but each and every thing in this world e.g., materialistic things are subject to decay. By using reference of ‘clock’ Daud Kamal is giving the uncertainty of time and behind this he has the view that with time everything will be finished. Similarly, the time to be born and time to die is defined by our creator. For example, if we buy something from a salesman, he makes sure the customer gives a guarantee of this thing for one, two, three or four years. It means that after this defined guarantee time, the thing will start to depreciate, it will expire. Similar is the case with human beings’ life and death.
Our leaders do not understand the fragility of time, they do not spare a thought to the irrevocable reality of the temporality of power, position and clout. That they will render account…they assure us, they condemn the terrorists but in reality, we continue to bear the grunt, we suffer from train number x.
In local parlance we ask who-do-us… who-we-offend? Does it need a rocket science intelligence to know that all these don’t add up? After all the NIN-SIM drama, our forces are on one hand overwhelmed and on the other part of the problem. Sadly, the drivers of the dark forces of train number x forget that life is temporary and death is marked as permanent. Nothing in this world is permanent but death is permanent. After meeting with death there is no chance of life anymore. Life is fragile and humans are weak as well. Weak things cannot survive for a long period of time.
Death is something through which materialistic aspects of life are destroyed by spiritual consciousness. By reading this poem one can analyse that Death is not concerned with particular human beings or ethnic groups or a religion. Everyone has to taste the flavor of death. All the current dramatis personae will face a creator, a destiny and so will you and me.
Innocent blood shed by train number x; train number x wreaks havoc on our education, our health systems (even as hospitals beg for blood in emergencies), this is an ode to death in security, in sports, in family values, in politics, and the very fabric of our society torn by bumcum materialism, ethnic jingoism, parochial parapoism, mundane mediocrity, godless religiosity and humanity dead leaders in various spaces.
For everything, there is a time and season, if we started well and we will end well—only time will tell