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The universe of pain: My thoughts on Nka

Pain is a great unifier: all human beings have been through pain of some sort –pain of illness or disease; pain watching, or living with, someone in pain – a parent, or child, yours or another’s, or a friend. Then we have the pain that comes with the departure of someone we love, unbearable. Nwachukwu Egbunike takes us to his pains and agonies in Nka and through the unsearchable path that leads to hope and joy.

Recently I read the poem, “Born. Living. Will. Die” by Camanghne Felix, posted on the website poets.org:

I’m getting older. I’m buying smaller images to travel light

I wake up. I light up. I tidy up, and it’s all over now.

Nwachukwu wakes up, lights up, tidies up and takes us to images of salvific pain, redemptive pain, restorative pain, of loss and gain. His dear father, Ezenwa Nkachukwu Anthony Egbunike smiles at his son this day as he celebrates his life in this collection of poems, Nka, meaning sculpture or perhaps work of art. The prefix to Nka-Chukwu meaning that which God had sculptured or God’s work of art.

His father lived to the proverbial age of 71, leaving this world in 2016, five years ago. Nwachukwu’s pain runs in the marrows of hope’s budding.

In the first lines of the first poem, “Nka”, Nwachukwu immediately draws our mind to what I describe as confounding incongruities, the oxymorons that paint our lives in colours pleasant and morose, take your pick:

It was a sleepless dream.

Hours flashed by like lightning,

Yet dragged like an unending shower.

I read this and answered:

dreams run on sleepless darkness

lightning flashes the hours counting

cooling showers unending

joy kisses pain

Nwachukwu ends the poem:

Sorrow remains buried within,

Where memory lights a path still.

He offers us hope at times of grief and loss.

The second poem bears a title I adore, “Ozoemena”, may the like not happen again. As we suffer failures and tragedies we pray, Lord, may this not happen again, a prayer for redemption.

The kiss comes as a wasp seduces

A truckload of sadness collides with a hapless virgin

Examples of more confounding incongruities – pain, discomfort, dance with pointed chastity.

But ozo melu, what should not happen has happened again. And, perhaps, again and again as we trudge through life. Yes, it happens again and what do we do? Listen to Nwachukwu in “Pain”:

The fear of death;

Hope of recovery;

Shame of dependence;

Desire for life;

Despondency of time;

The hope time brings.

So, we catch air in a basket,

Dare to contain water in a sieve

So, hope lingers

Pain purifies all things,

A silent fire that burns hurt away

I am drawn to the impossibles, the imponderables, we can only meet in poetry. Read “Divine Defect”:

Memory lapses

Rewards the backstabber

But you cannot not forget,

You are Mercy.

As it were Nwachukwu has condensed the entire New Testament, the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ into this poem, Divine Defect, especially with the last line, “You are Mercy.” We may go and ask, why are you so merciful, you pardon our enemies, grant them eternal life? Well, we wonder, but are assuaged, death reveals the mercy of God.

In the next poem, “Blind Love”, Nwachukwu tells us:Love is Sacrifice. He lets us into his deep Christian roots to love sacrifice.

His ink on love runs on in, “Let Me Love Not Fear”:

On the porch,

When all is done but one,

When things end in order to start another,

Knowing but not knowing,

Let me love, not fear.

O my late mother should hear this. She had a name for me: ‘Ke mere fe oku’ which inIgbo means, when you commit one offence, you wait for it to cool down then you commit another. Nwachukwu has given my mother the perfect answer: “When things end in order to start another.” The ‘other’ will come, ‘when all is done but one’. Let me love not fear, a title, a line repeated at the end of five stanzas.

He does not end there, in another poem “Why Do You Love Me Still”he echoes our recalcitrance in the last stanza:

I’m cursed,

And while I look remorseful,

I do it all over again

Nwachukwu thus takes us to the mercy of God, our sins, our pains all before him.

“A Rusted Tree” brings out his surrealist tendencies, or perhaps even stronger, moorings. Read“Short King” and meet a poet in a transcendental resurgence. “Ancestral”takes us to the Old and New Testaments, seen in the lines:

Here Light rose over the earth

That broke history into two

Continuing in this vein, the poet gives us Judas in “A Kiss.”

“A Pilgrim’s Tale” in the third section of the book eponymously named A Pilgrim’s Tale, leaves no one in doubt that the poet is healed. Read him:

It’s Love

The Pain and sorrow

A portal to Life opened

Once closed by death

With Life renewed and kept ajar

I am getting older, most surely. Am I buying smaller things to travel light? When I wake up, do I light up, do I tidy, and when it’s all over, am I cursed, no, I pray. As Nwachukwu reminds us in “Divine Defect”:

Memory lapses

Rewards the backstabber

But you cannot not forget

You are Mercy

Nwagwu, a professor of cell and molecular biology and a Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science, is the author of three novels and seven collections of poetry

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