Poetry is when, after seeing a woman pass, instead of just thinking quietly to yourself, ‘Wahala!’ you go home, sit down, take a piece of paper and write: “Without a doubt, you can stop a star in its celestial track. You! Twist it round for chance to see that glorious back. Shall I describe it? Swing and wobble, shake and tremble; that thing behind you will put me in trouble.” Yes. This is Poetry.
My sister, do no think too far. It is in the tempestuous flow of our ever-evolving language. That is what I told a young classroom. For I had asked for metaphors and been presented with – ‘Peter is as strong as a lion’, ‘Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow’. And I thought to myself – Really? Are they still using these things to teach Poetry? Even when they know that none of these children has seen any in real life – lion, lamb or snow? So, I laughed and said – Is that how your mother insults you at home? Tell me, how does your mother insult you at home? And one boy raised his hand and said – My mother always says, Why will you never sit in one place, this boy? You chop dog leg? And I told him – That is Poetry.
For how else could I make him understand? Yes. How else can I make you understand, that understanding is not the same thing as understanding the meaning of every word I use? Not when the objective is to make you see – to see the darkness as I see it, to force your hand up to your chest as if it was your own heart in danger of breaking. For we are not so different, you and me. The same palpitations wake you up too, like rain drops on a tin roof, or the low rumbling in the distance – of fear, of relentless thoughts running tight circles in your head, whispering, ‘You will not make it’, over and over again. Just that I sit up and put them down, those things we both have say to ourselves to get out of bed in the morning. Did you not know – written or whispered – that they are Poetry?
As are the moments we wish would never end. Like the minutes before the rain catches up with the wind, when it is just the trees at your window rustling in anticipation. Tell me, how do you express the feeling? Of waiting for a storm? Of lying beside a child and feeling her fall asleep to the disjointed sound of that your join-join story? I tell you, that is why we cannot mind these people who go about acting as if wealth is only ever something you can write a figure against in your column for assets. How? When each of us has at least one memory of a moment we wish had never ended. How?
So, do not think of it as something Shakespeare wrote. My brother, look to the left. Then look to the right. Now rub your eyes vigorously and try to see the things you see every day – houses with fingers dug into the sides of the earth; children giggling beneath dull trays of groundnut; women standing like rocks against the rain; men squashed together in a small bus, laughing out loud as it puffs its way up a hill in second gear. It is everywhere, this thing. True. You may search till tomorrow and find not one person on a soapbox anywhere calling out – ‘Romeo, O Romeo, wherefore at thou, O Romeo?’ – but this our Poetry? It is everywhere…