Friday, September 18, 2009

initiation (15)


when love is in bloom
even the weeds are glad!

across two continents the tendrils
of feeling stretched. we thought
it love, but it soon proved to
be less than that; much less love
than need.

fated roles often overshadow
hapless actors, regardless the
the stage – & ibadan was as
good a stage as any.

there in that native city, with
its hills & valleys; its gently
rolling plains, our roller coaster
of romance climbed a false summit.

its momentum built upon passion
stoked in another city; in another
world, & sustained, juvenescent,
fresh by our brief separation,

carried it over the top to plunge,
downhill, out of control, me holding
on u; u holding on,
praying that the ride would end…

u were a dancer, twenty-three
summers, & gemini nimble.
& i, broken on the wheel of
imminent divorce, needed a fling.

u were a warm, scented breeze,
blithe, intoxicating, but near
impossible to grasp; a welcome
diversion from the stale air of
stagnant wedlock.

& yr stanford-trained mind,
faster than yr flying feet,
lead me on a merry chase.

i can still smell the sweet sweat
of the dance studio, so generously
supplied by u & yr company;
can hear those congolese
percussive pulses racing the
throbbing in my temples.

night after night i watched u,
secretly singling u out from
the others. u were, sometimes,
a black blur, a lithe, leaping,
vibration, or a slow, undulant hip
& belly rolling temptress.

i needed u, then, like a strong
drink. i would loiter around that
studio like a drunk around a bar,
too bankrupt to buy, too proud
to beg.

though a longtime intimate of
most of the dancers (i roomed
with yr directors; had
photographed many of the company’s
performances), some wondered why

i was always around.

i kept my motives veiled. i was
after all, an artist of note &
professional community pillar;
there was nothing passing strange
in my interest, in my partronage.

i convinced most that since i was
arrow-aimed at africa, & soon;
free of worldwork & rigorous
responsibility. i simply had nothing
better to do.

the truth, though, of my deception
was that i was warweary of
entanglements, & terrified of

i needed to test the waters, toe, ankle,
knee, before committing
again to wetness.

& so, before conceding to con-
spicuous court, i urbanely conspired
to sneak up on u like an old friend,
win yr confidence, then hit & run
or miss & run, depending on which
god ruled the day.

u weren’t for a moment fooled;
played me like a fish, & i took
the bait unaware of the barb in
its belly.

i offered to drop u home after
one particularly grueling rehearsal.
u were coyly hesitant, but at
last agreed when i convinced u
that my samaritan gesture wouldn’t

take me out of my way.

i chivalrously left u at yr
doorstep without incident. we
did talk a bit, though, on the
ride home, & i got a glimpse
of the complexity shrouded by yr
simply sensuous body.

after that, when we met, by
contrivance or coincidence, we’d
greet each other with the ritual
hugs of the civilized; a transparent
excuse among the socialites, black

or otherwise, to press flesh, from
cheek to hip, & confirm or deny

what the eyes have suggested.

soon, i asked u out. u could
hardly turn down xanadu, & i
wined & dined u up & down
san francisco’s scenic hills; from

broadway to lombard, chinatown
to fisherman’s wharf.
we caught johnnie griffin, off
broadway, his rotund riffs sharpened
during his swedish sojourn.

we walked arm & arm along the
strip, smiling at the tourists
ogling the topless; laughing at
their revulsion to the gay lovers

kissing & fondling each other
in neon alleyways.

& again we talked, in the quiet
bars, & during the fast, forty
miles going home.

i learned much about u that
night, things i didn’t remember
until later; until too late.

this time, when i dropped u
there was no chivalrous intent.
when i intimated that i would love
to be invited in, u politely declined,
begging an early morning

i was stunned! had made my move
& missed. before i could recover,
u thanked me for a “super”
evening & let me kiss u good-

my mouth was too thick to work
properly; my tongue only suitable
for biting.

i saw u to yr door, hissed
a civil see-u-soon, & went
back to my car thinking dark

san francisco, johnnie griffin,
& two hundred dollars for…this?

well, i shrugged, this makes it
easy. & i drove home. that
night i dreamt of track shoes.

a week later, having gone through
a semisuccessful exorcism, i got
a message saying i should call
u. when i phoned, u reminded
me that u had considered moving
in with my sister (my god!)

well, u had decided that this
option would be attractive financially,
& could i please (since i had
a van) help u pack & move
a few things ?

what the hell, i couldn’t really
say no & save my indifferent
big brother routine, so the next
day, a saturday, i spent most
of the early evening helping u
change residences.

we finished around 8:00p.m. &

after our last trip to my sister’s,
u had me take u back to yr
former house, since u weren’t
officially to move until wednesday.

i was prepared to leave u
unmolested at yr door (once bitten,
twice stupid) but u suddenly
remembered u had forgotten
one item. i was tired by now but
determined to get this moving over
with. so, i followed u in.

once inside, u went to the
fridge & retrieved a bottle
of wine. “i don’t have a cocksrew”
u said.

“wait right there!” i said, &
flew to my apartment, nearly
ran through the door, & tore
up the kitchen until, under the
spoons, forks, & knives, under

the dirty dishes, the potato grater,
& the pancake turner i found
the defective corkscrew.

back at yr place, i mangled
& mayhemed that cork, trying
to free it from the bottle.
throughout the evening we were
both spitting out bits of cork,

straining them with our teeth, as the
all time best tasting vintage
flowed across our palates.

we became lovers that night.

& in the initial days to come
i found i couldn’t stop seeing

as those days turned to weeks
turned to months we suspended
time when we could, rode the winds
when we could not; clinging to
each other through the boring
& the bizarre, the quaint &

the curious, the storms & the
sunny days.

soon, the imminent day of departure
was near at hand.

i had proffered to take u with
me, but on thinking, backed off
to let u make yr own decision.
still, i bought u a return ticket
& paid yr bills just in case.

“if u find that u just can’t
manage nigeria,consider it a
vacation” i said. “…or, cash the
ticket in & use the money as
u wish, i’ll understand.”

on the day of the flight, u
drove me to the airport & we
spent our last hour together
on the continent. we talked
of love, then, love that could
span distance & time away from
each other.

& i kissed yr month & the
tears welling in yr eyes. we
said our goodbyes for the moment…
much had transpired in the four
short months between my departure
& yr arrival in ibadan.
i had gypsy jaunted to liberia;
fled from there disgusted,

i pierced lagos, moving fast, but
soon grew tired of the fast lane,
the incessant money chase, &
vicious social posturing.

so i slipped into ibadan looking
at last for work & a lapse into
somnambulant sincure.

a gracious couple offered me a
room; sanctuary in their house.
i offered to pay but they refused,
saying that i should get settled
first; that i should relax & take
it easy.

& the disparate deities of ibadan
began to work me over, make me
over until before long, i was
becoming a strange to myself.

had i known the slow amble of
time here; had i suspected the
information float to be months on
end instead of days, i’d have never
let u come; certainly never
let u see me less than i was.

the man u knew & thought
u loved wore big shoes
in his home town; had a good history,
was well-connected; a bright
star waxing.

the man u met when u came
was out of work, living on the

largesse of his friends; his meager
wealth dwindling; his credibility
& future, not at all certain.

u bought with u to nigeria
notions of what u thought it
would be, should be. yr hopes
so bright; how could u have
known of or suspected the mismatch?

when the light failed daily, u
were shaken. when the taps
went dry, u panicked. &
washing clothes by hand drew
out of u fits of pique.

the shower, when there was water,
was always cold.

u were shocked at the way
people let their livestock run
the street; at the aggressiveness
of beggars; the way garbage
was thrown everywhere.

the television bored u; the
markets didn’t impress u; &
u hated the danfos.

the rice & eggs for breakfast, the
stew & eba for lunch, the stew
& yam for dinner, or any
combination of the same day after
day reduced u to tears.

after going out a few times at
night, u refused to go again –
not to the beer parlors or the
hotels featuring local juju bands;
where girls in the trade sat

in front of doors in the hallways

leading to the dim-lit, dingy bars;
where a few drunken locals in
absence of female partners danced
by themselves or with each other;

not to the so-called five-star
restaurants where the chicken was
rubber, the peas cold, & the
water had colonies of something
floating in it.

when i suggested to u
that far too many nigerians have
no choice but to negotiate in
some of these conditions, u
accused me of just trying to make

u wrong; that u’d never get
use to some of the things u’ve

u were depressed at the status
of women, generally, & poor
women in particular; said u didn’t
want to sit around in the house

all day long, cooking food, watching
the children, while the men worked,
& drank, & ran the street.

u said i accepted things
to readily.

by that time, i was learning to
keep my council to myself.

i tried to take u with me on
my daily excursions (when i wasn’t
looking for work), to dugbe &
the cocoa house for a beer,
to oke ado to check for mail.

occasionally, i’d go to molete, to

drop in on chief (mrs.) taiwo, an
american from chicago who had
lived in nigeria thirty years, &
then back home again to bodija.

u joined me regularly for a
while then u stopped doing
that, too.

we began to argue a lot, not over
much, but the rows exposed our
frustration; our room became a

our hosts took note of yr
unhappiness; how u’d rarely come
out of the room. it was tense
for a time between u & madam.

once or twice i had to go alone
to kaduna to chase down some
job applications. each time i
returned, i met u less happy than
when i left.

on one occasion, when i returned
i learned that u had cried every
day. on another, that u had
contracted an infection. our
repeated trips to the doctor
brought no immediate cure; &
u were in pain.

soon, i became a major factor
in this overwhelming negativity;

i heard hard contempt in yr
voice whenever u spoke to me.
when i asked u about it, u’d
withdraw, say it’s nothing.

when i touched u, u’d flinch,
pull yourself away or endure my
handling with resignation, as if
out of some repulsive duty.

i saw myself diminishing in yr
eyes daily; becoming unclean,
loathsome, unloved. & i began
to despair – no job, no money,
no home of my own, & now, a

woman who despises me.

u started going out by yourself to
escape the house, the room, me. u
found a friend; another african
american woman who hated nigeria
as much as u.

the two of u commiserated,
& she revealed to u that she
was soon leaving; her husband,

an indian, would join her as soon
as he could or would, but she was
going as fast as she could get out.

u announced one night in bed
(all we did there now was talk
& sleep) that u had decided
to go home, as soon as possible,
that what we had, in effect, was over.

i almost let u go then,
drained by yr unhappiness; had
made up my mind laying beside u
touching, but not feeling u,
penetrating tentatively into yr
space & finding it inert.

but them my chest caved in.
my body shook with paroxysmal
grief. wave after convulsive wave

came & i soaked the sheets
with my tears.

i begged u in incoherent hiccups to
stay; for more time, for another

for an tnstant, i was two selves,
one floating above the bed, aware,
observing the scene below, but
unable to recognize that

wretched emotional wreck, that
grotesque groveler, that parody
of the pitiful, curled up fetally
beside u.

sometimes moved in u, though,
& i heard in my dual consciousness
u say that u would stay –
for awhile.

but i couldn’t stop crying.
u left fifteen days later. i
followed u around, a haggard
hangdog until the last.

together at the airport, one hundred
& thirty-four days after u
arrived, three hundred & fifty-
seven nights from the night we first

made love, i listened numbly to yr
promise to come back, after i’d
settled; after u had sorted yourself
out; heard u say u loved me.

somehow i knew that u were
making it easy; for u to leave, for
me to accept; afraid, perhaps, of an
embarrassing scene.

but u needn’t have worried so;
there was no more water in the
well. i was by then little more than
a dry dusty, riverbed.

there is no cure for heartbreak;
one can’t even ease the pain. but
it is something that can be lived
with. in the time that u’ve been
gone, i have since been rehabilitated,
& have put u behind me.

some obscure african proverb says
that u should thank the one who
dose u a kindness, however harsh
that kindness may seem.

well, ese-o, baby! i needed u
& the kindness u’ve given.
the scales are now balanced. u
have exacted recompense for every

woman i have ever, & will ever
love & hurt.

©Joseph McNair,1990-2009


  1. It seems that many of your life's more important lessons played themselves out in this experience. Did you learn anything from them?

  2. I did learn alot, but apparently not enough. maay be I am getting it now!