NOSTALGIA, HOMESICKNESS AND HOPE (A Review of Su’eddie Vershima Agema’s HOME EQUALS HOLES)

Title: Home Equals Holes
Author: Su’eddie Vershima Agema
Genre: Poetry
Format: Paperback
Extent: 72 pages
ISBN: 978-978-53122-0-1
Publisher: Sevhage Publishers

Time and distance do lots of things to us, lots of bad things. For one, they blur the memory. They are like termites, though small and fragile, yet capable of eating through the hardest of woods. Time and distance do to memory what fat does to blood vessels. If memory is blood, then time and distance are fat deposits and hospital is home. The longer it takes one to visit the hospital, the more fat deposits will coat the walls of one’s blood vessels and narrow the channel until the vessel is blocked and communication is lost completely.

Memories are like provisions. As you continue drawing from it without returning home occasionally to restock, the sack shrinks until all you have left is crumbs. And then one fine morning, you dip your hand into the sack only to find that even the crumbs are no more.

Some of the poems in Home Equals Holes impress this sad reality on the reader, and leaves the latter drenched in nostalgia and homesickness.

WE LONGED FOR WARMTH strikes the first punch and then leaves us with a vital question: where is home? What makes a place home? Is home a thing of the mind, or is it necessarily some geographical location? Sometimes exiles are deluded into thinking that they have packed home along with other valuables into a briefcase as they set out to travel out. They are confident that home will remain intact. But to their dismay, they find that it rusts and decays sooner and faster than their other belongings. Eventually, all that is left of ‘home’ is an empty shell, a form without substance. They soon find that trying to think of home is like trying to navigate a minefield. At best they can spark up a brief fire which in turn leaves them with a heap of ashes:

“the fires are burnt

the ashes fill the tent

of ours souls…

the ghost of a furnace burns in the hearth

but there are ashes sprinkled in our hearts…” pp8

Plodding down memory lane can be a torment yet, yet being inherently masochistic (to a degree), there are times we cannot help but go that way. It doesn’t make much difference whether in the process we water the lane with tears or thicken the air with sighs or try to brighten the path with a sad smile. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, when asked to about her fictitious sister, Viola replies:

“…she never told her love-

but let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,

feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought:

and, with a green and yellow melancholy,

she sat like Patience on a monument,

smiling at grief…”

Su’eddie Vershima Agema also knows how to brew despair and misery so deliciously you would pay for a sip of it. The poem I REMEMBER introduces us to a gracious woman who endures and continues to support her unfaithful husband until he dies by the drug defier (AIDS or some other terminal disease). The poet persona goes on to grudgingly recall how the woman begins to bow to pressure and depreciate in physique:

“…flooded dreams stretch to soul’s edge

I try to turn away but memory

pushes me into the rough tides

where pain growls to the tune of added thunder…

The fats of an essence

fizzle to bones

sockets stare where eyes once dazzled

smiles twist to crooked lines

and rugged lines spiral to rib your new physique…”

and then

“…all through a candle has burnt out

dead flames hidden in melted wax

it’s gone like you the spirit of the light…” pp15

ECHOES OF STONE touches at the transient nature of moments and times. Now, things are here, and then they are no more. What matters is what we do with them in the interim. Do we cherish and embrace them, or leave them out in the rain and sun?

“…gone then are the visions of mellow moments

times touched, fondness felt…

…we wake to wonder at a forgotten star…

that has left us all alone.” pp 20

IT WASN’T YOU, IT WAS ME is politeness and face-saving taken too far. It is one of such letters meant to absolve you of guilt but which ends up making you hate yourself the more. It is like saying it wasn’t one’s fault that one pulled the trigger but the gun’s fault for being in one’s hand just then.

“It wasn’t you

it was me.

It wasn’t that you were late

it’s just that you made convenience expire…

Did you know that I had to bite my fingered thoughts

as I ticked those moments waiting…

nearly falling off cliffs in dumb worship of your awe?

I hung on the glee of the magic

that you always carry with you…” pp56.

It makes you wonder, since (s)he loves him/her this much, why not wait for a few minutes more before walking away? Maybe we should blame it on the deplatable nature of grace and the uncertainty of the future. How are you sure they will show up in the end even if you wait? How can you be sure that they have not found new love elsewhere?

But Su’eddie Vershima Agema’s HOME EQUALS HOLES is not all gloom and gnashing of teeth. There is also hope for blue skies and sunshine. There is no certainty, though. There is only hope. Besides, what makes one to even bother to wake up from sleep if not the hope that the new day would be better than the previous one? The last poem in the collection, AT THE LAST MOMENT, is full of expectations of better days:

“…the storms shall cease

The floods finally fade

Our rainbow would spread…

… the ghost would have found fires

And the spirit would’ve warmed our homes

No holes then dear, we would have a long lasting laugh. amen.” Pp72

Su’eddie Vershima Agema approaches poetry with the confidence and dexterity of a master craftsman who seems to have so mastered the ropes that he can walk its entire length even without a balancing pole. Therefore, I don’t hesitate to conclude that the few uncomfortable bumps I suffered through the ride are avoidable on the part of the poet. There are only few other things that turn a reader off as having to turn to footnotes unnecessarily. Most of the local words used in this book add very little or nothing to the individual poems or even to the whole collection. If you are writing in English, it becomes baseless to resort to Tiv or Igbo for nouns that have common English terms. The use of Swange and Girinya, which we are told are Tiv traditional dances, are okay since there possibly aren’t English equivalents for them. But why say ‘Mfe’ when you can just say ‘Wisdom’? Or is Mfe a particular type of wisdom different from the ‘wisdom’ we all know? What type of wisdom is Mfe? Or take this other word, Aôndo, which is used as God. If Aôndo is a Tiv God or a particular God among the Tiv Gods, then the usage of the word would be understandable. But the footnote insists otherwise. Which is why, I am sure, some readers will easily get confused as to which God the poet is referring. Is Aôndo the same as the God that comes to some Christians’ mind or the one that comes to some Muslims’ mind or the one that comes to some Buddhists’ mind?

From most of Su’eddie Vershima Agema’s pictures that I have seen, he loves to use mufflers that mark him out as a Tiv. I understand that creators can come under (serious or illusionary) pressure to do all they can to popularize some parts of their constituencies which they feel are less recognized. But it behoves us to do that so craftily without holding boldly inscribed placards that scream “NOTICE ME! NOTICE ME!”

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