In the endlessness of life’s cyclical wheel, in the dangerous neutrality of man’s mortal effulgence, and or the cowardly barricade of the conflictual rhythms of his existence, he often misappropriates songs without adequately supplying the right dances to them.
“Don’t sing a song,” he said. “If you cannot find the perfect dance for it.”
Those were the exact words by my father (translated from Yoruba) in 1991 after I’d told him I wanted to join the Nigerian Army so one day I could be a military president. Years later, I would still, in my head, shuffle the judgmental finality of his words, probe at its proverbial complexity and perplexity, and ultimately resign from that variegated prodding of the wheel that will never cease to turn. A song is a song is a song, and a dance is a dance is a dance. Period!
“Because life is the most tragic, most magnificent, most merciless trick death can play on us.”
küçük İskender, “Someone Call an Ambulance”
When you first hear of his illness, you should be in the company of a genius journalist at seven at night and still at work. Upon going into the underwater world of shock, you should walk with said visiting journalist to the fountain that the ravens frequent in Vienna’s Volksgarten. Sit on a bench. As you watch the cascades of crystal beads streaming from between stone wreathes and sculpted longing you might say,
“I can’t cry yet.”
You may regret not having published books with the great poet and letting him have his own way with the stage play you wrote as a canto of his lines. But you didn’t finish it. Now, this is finishing it.
“When the question is asked: ‘Is there death, after life?'”
küçük İskender, “Necromantic”
And you would walk out with me to the western corner of the
To the dynastic temple, with water about it clear as blue jade,
With boats floating, and the sound of mouth-organs and drums,
With ripples like dragon-scales, going grass green on the water,
Pleasure lasting, with courtezans, going and coming without
With the willow flakes falling like snow,
And the vermilioned girls getting drunk about sunset,
And the water a hundred feet deep reflecting green eyebrows
—Eyebrows painted green are a fine sight in young moonlight,
And the girls singing back at each other,
Dancing in transparent brocade,
And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,
Tossing it up under the clouds.
And all this comes to an end.
And is not again to be met with.
— from “Exiles Letter” in Ezra Pound’s Cathay
We do not see the hut when the lights first come up, and then we see it. Its inhabitants are not interested in us, perhaps because their problems do not concern us. These women spend their days waiting for a man, and they know that one day he will come. Lights shine upstage from the front of the stage, illuminating a door in the back wall. Neither fully open nor quite shut, it swings gently on its hinges, creaking intermittently, as though the fitful wind outside the hut is knocking to make its presence known within. Then the light sweeps downstage and to the right: we see a flight of stairs rising to the princess’s room, mirrored by a flight on the left leading down to their larder. Centre stage is an old-fashioned, rectangular dining table—or rather, it is simply old: it has no identifiable fashion. Around this table there are four chairs, the back of one slightly higher than the rest. The chairs are not neatly arranged but are scattered about as though hastily vacated. Between them wend the backs of two women dressed in black, cleaning the shabby furnishings and complaining.
One day, just another still, warm day in February, there was you… Sometimes I wonder why there wasn’t something to suggest the birthing pains of this love: a camel-shaped eyelash, a rainbow above my roof, frogs raining, a tree bursting into yellow bloom overnight, a snatch of a song. But there was nothing. Not even a twitching eyelid or a skipped beat of the pulse. And yet, now when I think of the time before you, all I think of is this grey and metallic sheen of the strangled day and the death-like silence of the night.
Last Sunday the neighbours brought me a glass of something tall, cold and sweet. They had a name for it: thandai.
Did I know there was opium in it? I did. Why didn’t I say no? Probably because I wanted to know where it would lead me. Opium. Melded into milk and almonds and chilled so the sweet creaminess could slide down my throat while a foot soldier in black crept through my veins to the silly point of my brain.