Happy birthday Mums, I wish you more years.
But I am scared of when you die.
I know it is part of life
The sun danced into the room through colourful louvres,
While you smiled at me and held my trembling hand.
Fear showed me my face against the ground, not feet
Yet you pulled my hand to rise off the bed,
Towards the novelty of hope.
And you succeeded right there
To start a new colony of dreams:
Going new places with the newfound strength
Seemed the only reason the muscles moved in tandem.
My leg lunged forward, and you slowly matched that step
And I watched keenly to learn how this would feel later.
Then you took another step, and I nearly took you down
With my weight and St Peter's weight on my shoulders,
My leg lunged forward, and you again matched that step.
The hum of the air conditioner bounced off the white walls,
And the news sad as usual on TV couldn't outdo your smile
To me as you watched me overcome doubt along the way.
Who needs to be ready in such circumstances? Just go.
So my leg lunged forward, and you slowly matched that step,
Smiling, clinging onto my hand trembling no more.
I wasn't going to let you go.
I would succeed.
I had done this before:
Back in Bamenda on baby Bata shoes,
You led the way, I followed.
This time I led the way, you followed.
We didn't fall.
We didn't miss your hospital bed.
We didn't cry.
We lunged our legs forward on an adventure to bring you back,
I led the way, you followed
To give your sinews renewed vigour, renewed life.
I had to share this little jewel from my 8-year-old son; something special he wrote for his precious mum. It’s so unexpected that he came up with something so special…and she loved it.
So here goes: A tall mountain top, by Balla.
A tall mountain top
As tall as you can see
With lovely flowers
Grass and trees
I love to
climb up there
It’s so tall that it nearly
They say glass is made from sand, and I’ve witnessed
In documentaries how men take the so-rough-and-ugly
To make these marvelous pieces, that hold the best
Wine, whiskey, temperature, treasure. I had treasure once;
It wasn’t made of glass, but I lost it by my fault
And watched it pour into oblivion ounce by ounce.
I watched it freeze away, as my heartbeat slowed to nought,
And my smile blew away in the breathlessness of the air
Whispering to some distant mage: “This once I sought”
Injury of the soul beyond your finger on a sharp glass slice
And yes, I could feel the stitches coming lose where it dashed
For me. But the voice to save me is gone behind closed lies.
You know, lies like “I’m still here”, “I’m just sleeping”
Meanwhile the wood sips my warmth away, and nothing responds
To my smile calling away the tears, as all around me are weeping.
Where are those smiths to make a diamond from my broken hour glass?
Since glass holds the best, can I add some salt from my heart?
Oh, how it drills into my whole
That As my light the glass holds,
Leaving me in the dark staring into my resting past
It’s just a mirror for you and me, lost and forever apart.
This is for my dear mum Gaffo, gone to the Lord in 2009. I’ll never forget staring at her lovely face through the glass of her coffin, smiling at her, and so hurt that I’ll never see that smile again, that she will not smile back.
When you cross the Pearly Gates, will you sing for mum?
I recall those tender dew watered Yaoundé morns
When the cassette spun your voice out the Kenwood speakers,
Lulling my childhood ears to plains which white lilies adorn
And bees buzz the harmony to your vocals and the horns.
I recall especially as each new year died to birth another one
That mum would pop the cassette as metronome to the countdown.
And we would be eagerly watching the TV, eyes darting from clock
To TV, from clock to TV, holding on to the present’s each sound,
Conscious these moments shall roam hence only in Memory’s town.
The lyrics were beyond my mono-lingual grasp, but for “Liberté”
Where I felt freedom of my spirit soaring, and then “Bonne année”
Which nobody needed to explain. This is all I can take with me round
Memory’s town. But mum sure knew all the songs, and would sing away
As I watched in marvel as her lips waved a magical musical day
So Ma’am Nzie, this only I ask of you as you walk the path she took:
Let those words I didn’t understand but which my childhood shook
Pour once again beyond Peter, with love messages from me, three and more
And please, let her… please… harmonize once more every single hook
As once she did, but now in praise to my Maker as He lovingly looks.
The kitchen slab of long ago, with veggies and onions
And meat and knives and a utensil stack
And water and stock and “kanwa” and skills like a surgeon
And love and will to chop and then hack
Till pieces are ready to be put in the cauldron
Of oil of olive and salt and more
And make my meal, no a meal for me and the squadron
Of 2 bigger boys and 1 girlish bore,
Comes to me now in stabs and jabs to my sore bones
When I pause to think of your smile
For gone are you and the skill and love and scones
And we won’t see you for quite a while.
I still remember when you were but members kicking in the air,
Reaching for my hair, my glasses, mouth bare, wide stare
Living life to the full without a fear, and very little care:
Your empty stomach, full diapers, or when dada or mum’s not there.
Yes, your gums gleamed for the future white to grow there,
And the first push through brought your mum-mum to crazy cheer,
And brought you and gramma and mum to some hospital chair,
To tend a fever…shame most of these times I was on foreign stairs.
The pictures brought me joy too, and I showed each peer,
Like “Check that out, the teeth are showing” to their blank stare
Of non-understanding, or about-to-jeer, or I-don’t care.
But that little trophy was mine and mine to carry everywhere!
Then they multiplied: more incisors premolars and each year
There was more to show in your mouth than in some trade fairs!
We were proud, but I bet as high as your head was your care
For the diamonds pushing through your gums as if fore’er.
But now I can feel the stab of the salty streak of each tear
That poured out as four years later the incisive pioneer
Lost its hold and you panicked and at that time we weren’t there
To guide you on this change that to you was a great scare.
But but how could you have…but but….Mummy….
How could I have known that things strong one day leave?
How could I have known that this time it wasn’t a pet peeve
And that that last heave for breath is the last you’d give?
How could I have known that so soon we would all have to grieve?
You were decisive and strong, standing through the toughest
And the roughest weather you brushed off your body’s surface,
And put on a warm face, smiled to heal the pain in my sore nest
Where the eggs of hope were being infested by hornets.
Like my little boy living life not thinking about the whites,
I loved deep but saying “I love you” was an Isaac sacrifice,
And by your bier, staring through the glass at shut made-up eyes,
I’m saying “I love you” as if to thaw your face and skin of ice.
5, 10 and 15 are the hours my body chooses to remember:
Waking up abruptly to the hateful chorus of mechanical clocks
To face the day at 5am with short thermometer fluids.
Then at 10am the buffaloes stampede to the stream, the slide,
A swing overworked while a throng stand and wait to turn,
Unable to see 10h30am where the fun all ends. The balls are working too,
Until all have to wear sad faces at the classroom door.
15h00 to familiar aromas, tastes, visuals, and instead of homework,
I’m studying stage 2 of Super Mario Bros with A-B-C, then X-Y, then L-R
Hoping dad and mum are late enough that I finally make it over
The mathematical complexity of leaping over this gorge!
However, between the 5, 10 and 15 is the treasure my brain will remember.
Glue, match sticks and cardboard were Picasso’s iceberg tip, like me
Then letters like weird glyphs found meaning in a word ballet
On the pages, chalkboards, white on black wisdom screeching in the heat
And my eyes were still sleepy from late night Nintendo adventures.
The smiley faces became ticks, the ticks became grades, the grades
Became appraisals, and each aimed to keep me from straying
And make that other kid proud that he stayed furthest ahead of the pack.
The pressurized air bounces around the room sans-echo:
Years of research presented to my ignorant brain in seconds
And over and over again, I finally get it, and scorn those blokes
Of years past who couldn’t figure out that the apple WILL fall down.
Do it like this, not like this! Manners, planning, praying:
I soaked them all up in floating waves around my ears near my peers,
Till soon I was so filled, I was letting them out to other sponges.
Sadly, none of that ever fixed the chicken scratch I call handwriting!
5, 10 and 15 those three numbers which represent all you were to me:
End of nursery, end of primary, end of secondary and start university!
At each junction you stood, waiting to direct me, and whip…mean correct me.
Thank you the teachers who’ve made me who I’ve become today,
Who shaped the words I’ve chosen to write
And the way I say the jokes which make the souls of friends light.
You’re the garden of the world, for all that is dark and all that is right,
The under-looked power changing the world with red pen, white chalk and black board.
R.I.P. Mum…you’re the teacher I miss the most, till we meet again!
Where’s the sweet smile on the sunlit porch,
Sitting calmly and watching the world bustle by?
Where are the hugs from that sweet voice, pitch high,
But sweet soft? The flame on my darkness’ torch?
Where lie those sweet smells through the threshold,
Playing notes upon my nose, stirring thoughts in my tummy?
Where’s that sweet face like that on me,
Looking at me up and down like when I left the fresh mold?
Where’s that intangible love exchanged non-verbally,
As we shared recent events for hours,
You encouraging me to build my own life towers,
And those sweet thoughts shaping me morally and mentally?
Where’s the history of how you bore me 9 months,
And brought me through pain to this place of stress
Where I now have to live without your face,
Words, or touch till I’m done counting months?
Where are the trips to church, outings trips in the sun?
Where’s that beautiful chocolate skin you’ve given us?
Where’s the joy now that you’ve left us?
Where are you mum?