By Anote Ajeluorou
Germany-based Aka Teraka’s collection of poems Palm Lines (Boxwood Publishing House, U.S.; 2012), which can only be obtained online at Amazon for now, is a lyrical delight, an offering that coalesces thoughts about diverse issues into one tidy whole. The volume is moving poetry that takes the reader through the many labyrinths of Teraka’s very fertile imagination as he ruminates on the human condition and tries to locate himself within that broad canvas.
The five-part poetry collection is at once a journey and a destination both for the author and those fortunate to read it. It also casts a backward and forward glance at his roots and his current shared space in a foreign land and the contradictory intersections that shape the lived experiences. For an artist – musician, poet and linguist living abroad, in Germany, Teraka’s very exploratory and experiential poetry offers an avenue to the human spirit in quest of freedom through the few chinks it can find and the joys awaiting it on the other side.
But particularly, the notion of love in its many ambivalent shapes and contours runs through this compact collection. It is a love shaped by many experiences not least is the love for a woman, in this case, a white woman. Intermingled with this love is the anguish of exile and the longing for a troubled home still mired in self-ruination at its inability to create order. But in all of this, there is the poet’s self-exultation that, as a free spirit, he is still able to find joy in small things, not least, the love of his woman and the inescapable hope that the future can only get better.
From Part 1 ‘The Cracked Mirror’s Bottom’, which pertain to things gone awry and the loss of innocence or complete loss of human direction. But in all these, there’s the faint hope of renewal, as the poet reflects in the poem, ‘Resurfacing’, ‘Your disgrace/Reflected on my bottom/Wiped with tears across your lost face/Mirrored in anguish ambush- / Be of good cheer-/The dew/Washed the exposed leaf clean each time/The cock crows again.’
Always, the poet’s humanity comes to the fore with his expressed belief in the possibility of a dignified human spirit and what it can do in spite of the many shackles ranged against it. It is this triumph of the human spirit that Teraka sings most joyfully about even during moments of acute despair occasioned by acts of human error that sometimes plunge humanity into the abyss.
This position he affirms in the poem, ‘The Thirst Commandment’, when he says in the last stanza, ‘Understanding is/A fragment of that/Cracked mirror’s bottom./Return from space ship/Bewildered scientist/The greater mystery is humanity’. Here, there is abiding faith in humanity as healing point to a chaotic world. What is uppermost is ‘understanding’ as precondition to the ‘cracked mirror’s bottom’ or the fragmented world.
He encounters this ‘cracked mirror’s bottom’ in his love relationship with his ‘white wife’ in the racial slurs that easily mire such black and white love affairs. In spite of this racial madness, the poet persona is startled that the woman he loves sticks by him nonetheless. Not even the ending of that relationship, as it often happens, sways the persona otherwise, when he says almost in triumphant irony, ‘Love is a mysterious path/If you see me crying bitterly, do not comfort me/My joy is an enigmatic wonder performed by my pain.’
In Part 2 ‘Crunchteeth of Reality’, Teraka takes a look at the harsh reality in his home land and the gruelling conditions that daily assail lives from armed robberies to plane crashes to thieving politicians and bad governance. In ‘The Goodbye Bird’, Teraka, like most of his countrymen and women, is tired of the frequent plane crashes that cause loss of lives. So, he says, ‘Tell your master/Trust is no flight of mere imagination/That will rise again from its ashes/When it dips and crashes…/The very sky/has spat us out/in discontent!’
On the corrupt political actors waging a war against the people, he asserts in ‘Oil-drunkard’, ‘Tolotolo longa throat/Oil-drinker/I hear you coughing…/Your cough syrup is counterfeit/Shipped in from India or China/Fake drugs, Swiss accounts, a hundred mansions/Will not get rid of the black smoke/Stuck in your throat/So come… let slap your back!’ Or is it the hypocrisy plaguing the land in the guise of religion? Teraka is humourless, as he states in the last stanza of ‘Intersecular’, ‘Monday is the new Sunday./If you want to meet God,/Look for Him on Monday-/On Sunday, Saturday and Friday He is far away/Tired of our hypocrisy.’
In Part 3 ‘Kissing the Palm Groove’, Teraka goes back to the theme of love as the all-healing balm to a troubled world, as he sings in ‘And there was life’, ‘’Tis no cliché/When God said let there be love/We heard let there be light’. In ‘Tracing The Palm Groove’, he also asserts that in spite of the differences people tend to see in the world, the one unifying vision is love that melts boundaries of colour, race, religion and ideology, ‘Like a glove/Her palm fit into mine/I saw her struggling/with the shock/Recognition brought.../ We clasp hands and become a palm nation’.
The symbolism of palm as peace offering in both African and Christian religious theology is tellingly asserted in this poem as with the collection’s title Palm Lines.
In Part 4 ‘Free Spirit’, the poet pursues the artistic ideal of the human spirit free to roam in a world without the inhibiting boundaries society often imposes on those willing to seek and dare beyond the ordinary. In Part 5 ‘Come-Promised Land’, Teraka takes his quest to a promised future of possible bliss. But in exile, he finds this almost impossible and is forced to look backwards to his home land for possible redemption of his humanity that exile often abuses in its many nuanced rejections.
So in ‘Renaissance’, his ambivalent is ripe like a puss, ‘I thought it was a river running/But the Niger is quiet these days/Silenced at gunpoint/Now the iroko too seeks refuge over seas…/Look back! Your roots are tugging at you/Awaken from your winter sleep!’ The last poem becomes an anthem of sorts to hopeful sojourns in foreign lands from an insider, one who still lives there. It’s ominously three short stanzas sum up the reality of foreign lands, especially what Europe really is: Rather than give anything to those seeking a better life over there, Europe gives a huge lie instead, ‘They are taking, taking/what they lack/More than what they give-/they need More to live.’
Simply put, Teraka’s is an accomplished collection of lyrical poems that dredges the totality of the human condition on its chosen subjects. It’s a joyful read!