(for Sesan Ajayi - 1959-94)
His art is happy, but who knows his mind? ...
For certainly he sank into his grave
His senses and his heart unsatisfied
− W.B. Yeats
In the unhappy distance
graves fix between the living
and the dead, a glance
at his poems reveals time beginning
to crawl again as a hand placed on forehead
contemplates the error of his death.
In his blood and bone,
in his heart and lung
a battle for life fell prone
to dead cures. And he clung
to all things, fake and fair, said
in hope, to avert the error of his death.
In temporary victories scored
outside the claims of men and medicine,
in days nurtured and offered
to poetry, was the timed vaccine
which, worn out by a restless heart
failed to stop the error of his death.
Now, an old man’s last days
weave the long grey cloth of mourning.
In his heart, a perfect wrath slays
the unforgivable day. A night and morning
after, there’s no consolation in the bed
lamenting the error of this death.
An old woman beats her breast,
the cry of bereavement breaking
her bones beyond what sedated rest
and haunted sleep can mend. Struggling
against fits and fainting, her heart in shreds
what can cure the error of this death?
He wrote no poems to console
those to mourn when those who come
in borrowed flight vault
from the welcoming embrace.
Now their arms must fall with dread
hugged by the error of his death.
His calm eye courted the sun, kissed
the night with a musical mouth.
He loved the questioned life, charmed
by learning, that pointed out
the doings of the house of power pledged
to more errors in many more deaths.
Let us echo another poet and say:
in the dewy sunrise of his days
with art to make but nation in his way
pray the poet to cause his song to essay
the cry and laughter of abject man
the sorrows of his wretched clan.
And poetry was the last witness to his art:
when beyond the gates of blood and flesh his heart
had soared, they reached to close his reciting eyes
and found there, in stony metaphors, the fires
of stillborn poems, cursing the well-fed
promise to multiply the error of his death.