Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gabriel Okara, "Once Upon a Time"

This poem is a good example of his theme about African culture meets European.

"Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes;
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.

There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts;
but that's gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.

'Feel at home'! 'Come again';
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice -
for then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses - homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.

And I have learned, too,
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say, 'Goodbye',
when I mean 'Good-riddance';
to say 'Glad to meet you',
without being glad; and to say 'It's been
nice talking to you', after being bored.

But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most off all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake's bare fangs!

So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you."

4 comments:

Maithri said...

What an honour and blessing it is to find you here in this world my sister,

These words brought tears to my eyes,

Thank you for the immediacy and humanity in your postings,

I look forward to reading more of you,

The blessings of Wild love and soft light be yours,

Maithri

Nwafor Chukwuka said...

A most passionate poem. Thanks for posting it. Please how and where can I get this collection except for Amazon and eBay because their prices are just too ridiculous to bear??

Carina said...

Nwafor; Try antiquarian bookshops/second-hand bookshops, you can find really good books there. You can also try abebooks.com, they do have cheap books. It all depends where you live, with shipping and all, but I hope you can find his collections at a reasonable price

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