Richard Ali: Thought to try a love poem, thought to share. Still an early draft.
*The Poetry of Noah’s Children*
I know in the soft cold of this December morning
Love, how it spreads and whitens skin, making us
Beacons beaming golden light, our day at St Georges
When we were luminous for the world to see
Old blood calls to old blood in this embrace of Nuh
In the warming kiss of lips, the touching tongues of
Ham and Shem, we pageant sacred stories and our moans
Are dreams of Babel before the first flutter of Seraphim
I’ll be majnoon to your Layla in this poetry of chill
That calls to chill and the friction aflame of fate that burns
Bright against the will of angels, the will of what sunders—
A lighthouse standing in time, as an obelisk in forever.
Joanne A: … really enjoyed this Ra, and again spent some time in research, this time to refresh memory of what the biblical refs suggest, and to re-acquaint self with the cascades of Majnoon & Layla. Checking up on Fiqranya leads to many conversations of facebook, so, a personal name, i conclude
two moments of startlement, the idea that love “whitens” skin, and the suggestive of Ham & Shem, brothers touching tongues
poet is boss, so, if you say so!
for the rest, elegant and gentle, affirmation of sweetness of life, and the vast scale of the lands we pass our days in– yes, to the elevations of love
i do enjoy love poetry, i will read even spam that begins, “Dear Beloved,” so, i am a wide-ranging reader of the form. When a few years back i found myself producing love poetry, i found some strongly negative reactions– but in the end, it was the person who had walled away love who changed, and the poetry carried on, expressive of the one true thing, making small magics in the world
RA: Thanks a lot for the feedback, sis. Was playing around with some ideas. Permit me to share these since I’ve already inflicted the poem on you. I’m up and sleepless in Lagos, Nigeria.
Fiqranya is the female form for “lover” or “beloved” in Amharic; my girlfriend who inspired the poem is a Tigrean and speaks Amharic as a first language. Tigrean, and Amharic, like Arabic and Hebrew are all Semitic languages, hence she is descended from Noah’s son, Shem. (The word for love in Amharic is “fiker”, which reminds me of “flicker” and gave rise to a luminous/fire imagery. . .) I’m of course a sub-Saharan central Sudanese man from Nigeria, thus I am descended from Noah’s other son, Ham. (Digression: I speak Hausa as a first language, which, strangely, is a Chadic language from the Nilo-Saharan family tree, same as the Ethiopic languages. Languages are very funny, rascally things I tell you. )
The core of the poem is the idea of God (“the angels”, “the Seraphim”) coming down to disperse languages and men for building the tower of Babel to rival the power of heaven–all the three Semitic religions agree on this “fact” and genealogy is always sought to be tied to where one fits in the ethno-linguistic tree of Noah’s three sons. And even in modern times, Foucault, Edward Said, Chomsky and all the greats have always held the study of linguistics to be absolutely important in philosophy, how we create meaning.
The pair of lovers in the poem have found a new language, the language of love, that defies this dispersion thus joining the two families of Noah’s descendants they belong to. And when they kiss, the brothers kiss as well. Thus, a new, super-imposing meaning is discovered.
The luminous/fire imagery of the cold whitening skin which transforms into a “flame” later on and then a “lighthouse” in the last quatrain is meant to hold the poem in place.
Ah, we are lost without love! Love gives structure to the chaos of life. It’s absolutely terrible and tragic the number of cynical, bitter people out there. How do they come to be this way? *sigh* I say, smile, let go, love and even when love exacts a price, pay it, but love anyway, love nonetheless, love always.
Will take a closer look at the whole thing with a view to making it more elegant.
JA: The possibility of the brothers meeting through descendants did occur to me– also, a slip of memory of touching tongues with a sister, from long ago childhood, returned– don’t be so fusty memory says, hands on hips
Progression of the image of the Light was very clear
Later i wondered if there is a term for the cluster of characters and stories that are shared across the Abrahamic tree–
Much appreciated, your teachings on the languages and families, and the one word which would not come forth to my web requesting. I have a fondness for etymologies and roots generally, not to mention stories & poems
RA: I don’t know if there’s a term for the cluster of Noah characters and stories, something like say the way we use Anansesem for Ananse (spider-trickster folk tales) in Ghana. There probably is one even though “Noah” is such an unwieldy name, two vowels and then it ends in an /h/ which is practically a vowel too. Not even the Arab version of the name, Nuh, helps really
Richard R: I wonder as a practitioner not a critic or close reader, what you consider when thinking about the reader. Joanne has shown and you have elaborated what your projection was and what the response was from one. I liked reading the poem. I saw that it was grasping and illustrating something ‘divine’ if not magical. I got it was about language and love. It had a rhythm (not sound) which enhanced (i. e. ‘intensed’). I got some of the reference…nearly. As an obsessive practitioner I worried about line length and the use of conjunctions in respect of breath if reading it. I wondered if so much syntax was necessary.
If you were discoursing on poetry with other practitioners, what would you say about the reader?
Beverly NN: Thanks mostly for the explanation which led me to read it with more awareness of language, human movements and the beautiful Tigrean people. There are a number of similar phrases in Luganda and French too.
I believe that at times love makes us cynical. I like to look at eros (the persona and contact with Ethiopia)), agape (Noah’s God), filial (Noah’s sons) and how they blend, conflict and make us rise to the general occasion.
You bring many thoughts and cultures into your poem.
Richard Ali, a lawyer, was born in Kano, Nigeria and grew up in the resort town of Jos. He holds an LL.B from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2010. Author of the warmly received 2012 novel, City of Memories, Richard is also Editor-in-Chief of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine. Out of a desire to further add to the promising profile of African writing, he formed Nigeria’s newest publishing company, together with Mrs. Azafi Omoluabl-Ogosi in January 2012. Parrésia Publishers Ltd .He lives in Jos where he practices law and runs an IT-company together with the northern office Parrésia Publishers Ltd where he serves as Chief Operating Officer. He is unmarried and enjoys chess, reading and travelling.