By Kofi Awoonor
(Ghanian Poet who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi)
Remember the Christmas
when on our way from Chelsea
you fell on pavements
broke a tooth and I was mute?
Your mother thought I was cruel,
but your fall hurt me
in that all of us,
your clansmen, fell on alien ground,
Remember the morning walks
To your nanny’s
where you sulked and longed for home
the agony of flights and
the pain of separation looming
large like winter moons.
I knew I was the tempest
That will blast your youth
and misery of infancy.
Oh, I was the Abraham
Sacrificing my Isaac
waiting in vain for the ram in the thicket
for dreams long forgotten under tropical suns.
But what could I have done?
Was I not aware of coming prophecies
the final estrangement
prepared in secrecy
by the intervening gods of my household?
No. I was not seeking
an athanasia; how can I
the epilogue of my own long torment
understand the prologue I dreamed you to be?
Kofi Awoonor was born in Ghana in 1935. He is considered as one of the best known poets of Ghana, apart from being a novelist, critic, academic and politician. He was educated in Ghana, the United Kingdom and the United States. Closely connected with the first president of Ghana, Nkame Krumah, Awoonor was forced to go into exile after a coup against Nkrumah in 1966. During the time abroad, he completed his graduate and doctoral studies. For several years, he taught English Literature at the State University of New York. In the last years, he engaged in political activities. From 1990 until 1994, he was Ghana’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations in New York. He was killed during the terrorist attack in Westgate Mall in Nairobi on 21st September.
The poet Awoonor was conscious of his roots in traditional poetry and folk songs. His grandmother was a mourning singer (Like our Rudali). He uses this motif in several of his poems to express the grief of the Western-educated African looking back at his native culture. Awoonor has published several collections of poetry and two novels. In his fiction and poetry, the author often works on two levels. The first level is usually a narrative of everyday experience. The second level is a symbolic journey through a personal or political development filled with Biblical and literary allusions. The poet applies this technique to his poem “To Sika” for his daughter.
This poem contains three parts. A triplet at the center present the poet concern: “I knew I was the tempest that will blast your youth and misery of infancy.” The first and the third part of the poem consist of fourteen lines. The structure of the poem is the variation of the fourteen-line sonnet and alludes to the tradition of sonnets as expression of love. Sika is usually girl’s name which means gold or something highly appreciated. In this poem, small accidents and events of his daughter’s life are placed side by side with the father’s meditations on his faith and his fate that has called him to be a poet. The speaker of the poem had been unable to speak immediately to his child when it had been necessary. Now he is anxious to reassure the child of his tenderness and care by showing her that he recollects every details of her life: her broken tooth, her sullen mood, her fear to imminent separation. The first part addresses the child two times, “Remember the Christmas…”, “Remember the morning walks…”. The daughter’s accident and the separation of father and daughter are connected with the failure of protection by ancestral spirits and a Christian God. African spirits should protect the members of the clan when they are abroad, but “all of us, your clansmen fell on alien ground.” In the Old Testament the appearance of the substitute ram counteracts Isaac’s sacrifice. Here, however, the father has to sacrifice his daughter’s happy childhood to his vocation as poet. The central and the second part lament the father’s guilt and try to explain his apparent indifference and cruelty, “Oh, I was the Abraham sacrificing his Isaac”. The reference to Christian religion and to “prophecies” and “certainties” from the gods of the household point to a change of faith. The term “athanasia” means creed, belief. The father meditates on the question of “fate” that has called him to be a poet. The return to ancient African gods and his daughter’s presence enable the poet to move on after having been uncertain of his role as a singer for a long time. Sika is the inspiration for his poem. The child’s life lights and fuels the father’s creativity. Finally, the poet as father is able to make a poem about his silence under which he had been hiding his tenderness.
Kofi Awoonor’s poem foreground the intimacy and the privacy of the child parent relationship. He shows that fathering is filled with tenderness, responsibility and care, even though it is hidden under silence as expressed in this highly artistic poem.
Extracted from: Poems at the Edge of Differences: Mothering in New English Poetry by Women By Renate Papke