Chris Abani is one of the most significant living poets of English letters. But don’t take my word for it, let Abani take your imagination on a spiritual journey from Africa to America. Follow his life engraved in memory, life that could have ended at the sweet age of 18 when he was sentenced to death for his stand against big oil in his native Nigeria. To die is to return he will later say in the first poem.
Boys are taught to kill early.
when I shot a chick in my first ritual.
Eight when chickens became easy.
I have never killed a man, but
I know how, I know I can,
I know that if the timing were right I would.
I am afraid that I might not feel sorry.
I am afraid I will enjoy it.
Rarely can a voice like Abani’s be heard on a page, refined like one’s breath of a soul, like the sound of one’s bare feet that measure out the distance between god and themselves. No matter how far one advances along the not-so-linear line of life, the distance remains the same; the distance between our daily bread, our daily language and Sanctificum, a word that undergoes transformation as it enters our soul as communion.
Here is my body, I say, eat it, do this,
remember me –
Like any of us, Abani stops at a crossroad, at a limit of human understanding when he confesses that language has failed him…
Language escapes me still –see it sprinting
down the street. Crazed. A crazy man.
Babbling. Babel. This is my language.
On a wall in Sarajevo, graffiti reads:
KILLING IS MY BUSINESS
BUSSINESS IS GOOD.
As if to warn readers not worthy of the word, not worthy to enter his house, the poet will say, How foolish of me to keep knocking on a door whose face remains closed to me. (Renewal) This keen recognition of ignorance seeps into his work as if to wake the Finnegans, to put in our hands a Vade mecum, a book of poetry we might take with us on the road and drink from it ceaselessly; enter the sacrum within, grow roots of our return. And return to Sanctificum you shall. Time and again.
This is a circle song. Like songs of old.
We go over the same territory, like a mower
religiously eating grass that will grow again.