(A Review of Dami Ajayi’s Affection & Other Accidents, published by Radi8 Ltd., Lagos, Nigeria, 2022)
The therapeutic and healing properties of poetry are not necessarily definite for the genre, but they exist and can for poets provide all of the relief for the mind if taken up as a mirror of the self.
For the man or woman who is heartbroken, poetry can become a journey into the self, a retrospective X-raying of fortunes and misfortunes, with the aim of understanding the course of one’s own existence as a being. To make meaning of life, of love and losses. Here, where life is a rope, a strangling rope. A noose. With all the properties to transmute into a broken rope all to the same consequence of death, leaving the living with nothing but a thin thread of a bridge to navigate this heavy knotted maze of a rope.
The Clinician Dami Ajayi with his collection, Affection & Other Accidents hands us poetry with a stethoscope on the human heart and emotions. He examines how love fates us on the rope called life, how steady love and his travails hit hard with pain than the expected pleasure. The accident of broken promises and betrayed expectations, the same love we fall into to hide and provide us with reasons to go on living inflicts pain and other accidents of death and dying on our frail frame and being.
The first take of the collection is the shattering of the myth that the man is always and has always been the player; the man is the one leaving the woman in the hang and walking away. Here we meet a poet personae of a man taking us through his odyssey in the hands of a woman.
The story like reading of the title poem AFFECTION & OTHER ACCIDENTS doesn’t betray the beginning of most love stories of always “A perfect beginning” (p.2). The sacredness of words imposes stinginess on their use. This does not now dismiss history and chronology from poetry. In INTERLOGUE I (p.8), the love runs its course and in “Three years &/four proposals later/we stand annulled, a premarital divorce.” From the time we go on to place/s in INTERLOGUE II (p.19), where the poem reads “… you did me dirty/ in five cities.”
The first of the city is Lagos, four others are to follow after… and this is where the collection, in reality, kicks off too. On “the Third Mainland Bridge at top speed.” With the poet personae set to deliver “a replacement”/’s “engagement ring”. We do not get to know how the original was lost. The heart in love is most incapable of reading meanings outside of consolidating and consummating love; this is all there is to a thesis. An antithesis in the opposite direction in the sense of an anti-love does not exist. Readers cannot help but wonder how a lady can be chatty to an audience about a “missing engagement ring”, and at the same time express an “unfaltering devotion” to the same man without a clue as to how an engagement ring went missing “barely three months I slid it into your finger.” (p.3)
”Yes, love fails, many a times it is never enough. The economics of existence, our class, our morals, even simple things like how we eat, the sound of food in our mouth, when we eat, how we defecate can break and set two hearts apart.”
Love is a blinding floodlight, without the need of eyes to behold the change of currents in the underbelly already undermining the love in pursuit. With love, the heart is all the mind that is needed, and the confession of words; the pronouncement of the four-letter-word; and the “aisle-bound affection” is all there is defining reality.
We motion from Lagos to Germany; inside of “A trained coach heading from Berlin to Cologne” (p.4) with the goal already for “A perfect Danish wedding with all your family & none of the mine”. The rude response to his mother over “questions about Denmark”. And to now suffer “our relationship” to ridicule to feed the other’s hunger and “appetite for public spectacle” and the terrible conclusion to end everything “to get off and never see you again”.
But love is notoriously known for its power of elasticity and so we hop to the fourth city of New Delhi in India. Is the poet coming to New Delhi to plead with Parvati; the dark skin goddess of love? This is a reversal of Hindu mythology; a reversal of role for Shiva is not now the one playing hard to get.
The poem reads itself out as a podcast from the Vedas: “Love endures. Love is relentless. Love trudges.” (p.5) to find out “if there was any love left, anything we could work with to bring our affection back to speed”. All of the bribe of favourite cuisine condiments of “locust beans, dried fish, dried ewedu leaves, fiery ground pepper” fully loaded on suitcases from Lagos was too poor for appeasement to make room for the purported lovebirds to engage each other in a question and answer session on the future.
The poet proved to be too Cain-like with his vegetable load of offerings. The Abrahamic God of Genesis was alive in India already eager to taste blood. Again another reversal of role. The poet personae are unable to play Cain to the end, and suffer love to a murder, as the thunder of don’t dos come raining down; “Do not leave the light bulbs on. Do not leave skid marks on the porcelain. Do not leave used plates in the kitchen sink. Do not play music too loud. Do not sit. Do not write at night. Do not ask questions.”
From India with no answers we head to the fifth city; London. Distance should no longer be a hindrance to love, not when it can be obliterated with the touch of a button and two hearts can to and fro be connected, enabling the flow of soothing words to help temper the crisis of navigating the capital of the former British empire and the demands of a new job. Day one: “a deluge drenched me”. Day two: “slid & fell on Sunderland Avenue”. Day three: “tripped on the underground station & fell. I sat on the floor with my overtly yellow luggage & wept.” And nothing but the damning verdict of “incapable of living in Europe”.
London becomes the city of finishing off. The “London days, / days edged like a bet … /days trembling from denouement, /… /days notched by uncertainties, (p.11). But not without flickers of the flame of hope for a love already “threadbare” (p.7) and thinning out to sparkle light back to life has the He receives the news of the She coming to London. Alas, however the bomb drops, delivered by a precise phrase from of her coming to London “to apologize, not to beg”. More like two Generals of opposite camps at the peace talk to end the hostility with “a handshake & keeps dignity intact.” There is no understanding of the reason for the bitterness even in “a small war over toilet rolls” (p.25).Everything is in reversal form. How love came to feel like war and peace-making leaves the other with a broken heart.
The pain is on exhibition in AUBADE TO MY GREYING (p.9) the unrealisation of the dream of fatherhood (at least for now). They look forward to in a congenial coupling of man and woman in coitus copulation, for a “daughter” calling on “Daddy ….” Now we know everything is gone burst. How consoling is poetry to a broken heart even when it gives birth to poems to “progenies” that “don’t breathe air;/they sit on shelves/& I wear/proudly the badge “author.”
Ebu is the Yoruba word for curse, as the poet plays Jesus in full blast damning the fig tree for fruitlessness in the poem MARY’S IN INDIA (p.20). The woman in our story finally gets named; Mary. And the poet discards civility to pass a harsh sentence of condemning her to loneliness. “Mary, /the sun will rise &/set on you alone today” and “… tomorrow” and “… always”. This is the final walk away; there is no return anymore to this love.
UNRELAIBLE NARRATOR (p.23) is the title for this fallback to the memory of the good and beautiful times. Of “shades of the nights, /the sour edges of the forbidden. /She would rest her head on/my bony knee & wait for daybreak, soft music cooing.”. “The night hasn’t changed its /shade & texture much, but people change/ & their circumstances” This much is what has rocked the DECLARATION (p.24) of “unflinching affection”. The poet poaches on the entire meeting of the classic song: LIFE GOES DOWN LOW (p.25) by the Lijadu Sisters to next fete us with his transition from the hilltop of desires and feeling of forever bliss to the valley of “despair”.
And love is “the dyspnoeic flame of an oil lamp” that gets no spark to life as “strangers do not offer smiles” of light “from behind dark face masks”. And the flame is assailed by the constant “cold calls” without any protective shield of a warming heart. What more is left as the poet announces his disentanglement with the line “I acknowledge my exile” from love.
And the night becomes the refuge for the broken heart. The sense of loss is now acknowledged, the man can wander into the dark unknown and alone to behold “Lupita dancing alone” (TONIGHT p.27). This is where therapy can begin, yes in a “nightclub”, burning the pains out of the heart watching other men “licking” the dancing Lupita “with their eyes”, and as well as listening to “the DJ” playing song after song. Lupita is medicine, prescribed in music and dance. Lupita is medicine in is self-indulgence without temper for anything or anyone else “outside her body/she will mind her business & whine her waist/as though there is no haste,/as though she made time.” The Broken heart is one and at the same time a split personality sharing the same space as the eyes watching Lupita dancing on stage and other men watching her but also as Lupita in her disregard for life’s “complexion & its complexities” and “sublime her worries”.
BIG HANDS (p.28), transports us back to tricks the mind can play on a broken heart seeking healing, the temptation to dwell in the past and not put it aside. How interruptions and eruptions of erotic desires even as ghosts can further damage the heart to continue to ail. So in sharing a table once again, “the urinal” is a sanctuary to aid the mind to not forget the handy lesson of Lupita. The poet’s personae are healing, and temptations must be avoided. Please keep your handshake to yourself, “I had folded your memory into/shelves where cobwebs belong.” WE MOVE. The reader is all with the poet, no doubt in full empathy. This is nothing but WOKE. To walk out into the night and “navigate [existence] with a Samsung & song.”
Dami Ajayi succeeds so beautifully well in crafting for the broken heart the necessity to find from deep inside the courage with which to move on, only then can the exorcism commences and Time, the ultimate Chief Priest of fates, performs the finality of rituals and “ellipsis becomes elision/becomes a dot becomes/a blinking cursor/beginning to blur.” INTERLOGUE III (p.30).
Only on the path of healing can the Broken–hearted take the past to task and reconfigure the history of the affair for causations of the fall of this Empire of Love & Desire. The flaws of the emperor permit me in this case the Empress, which before now the mind blinded by love could never have seen, and so doing strengthens the will to sane oneself out of despair and sail away free. This is the function performed by the next series of poems, an exposé on the character’s defects.
In SHOE STRINGS (p.31), the subtle word “filch” helps to disguise this act of stealing “shoestrings”. But hear the poet why not “a column of good books” and he explains it away “where is the head?” He points to the lack of “Opolo” and “patience to dwell/on sentences poised to shapen your life”. The failure to bring to fruition the dreams of “proposed writing” projects. With CANCELLING R. KELLY (p.32), all of the labour of love to build up the needed crescendo to set the ship for two to sail is suddenly halted as “You disrupt pleasure to shut off the music, /You will not fuck me to a R. Kelly tune. And the menial mount climbing to bring fire to desire begins all over again. And painfully “at dawn, you don’t thank me/ & say bye-bye”. In THE BODY KNOWS (p.33), yes the body of the other knows when the player or the slay queen prowls.
With THE CRUCIBLE (p.35), we are back to “the logistics of saying goodbye” and “Nothing was promised/… at the departure bay”. In A POEM FOR RALIAT (p.43), we cannot help but to be happy with Raliat and “her groom”. With both of them “Love finds itself & that is enough”. And there is a wedding, there is a marriage. But why not the same for the poet personae? “It hurts to be alone”, Bob Marley’s 1965 song “Love & Affections” is here appropriate and fitted to play: “I was the one who always feels the pain”.
In INTERLOGUE IV (p.50), the therapy sessions make a turn and the poem engages the Brokenhearted being with a question that lights the possibility of an end of therapy. The two to tango’s prerequisite comes up in full motion as the Clinician takes the patient to task with the questions to confront the other of “what is love without reciprocity” and “that what you have given/is given back?”. And “what is the use of anger/if not to dissolve resolve” (FIRST STRIKE (p.51)). Everything begins to Fall in place. The poet’s personae are not the reason, did not fire the first strike. This power of revelation clears existing “doubt” to see the supposed if you don’t mind my expression here “fake love” of the other and the poet exclaims “if this is all of your love,/then my food allergies must be kind”.
INTERLOGUE V (p.56) is the last of the in-between engagements of the whole affair. This recaps of one of the beautiful moments of bliss… “Two lovers are caught” trapped in a blast of “Summer rain“, and the next scene is not a dream. It is live stream…without the need for blanket cover…two bodies rock…the way a woman can make a man rain… jigging a seed to grow a sun inside of her to life… To the power of her attraction “…makes it rain” to drown the rain outside. Only that after she “fails/to bring the sun back“. Is the imagery not overstretched? In Cologne, the two hearts in unison worked body together to shut out the sun. “In the middle of the night, alone” the verdict of “accident” as a memory to banish from the mind of the Poet personae is a battle to be won for healing to fully become for the Brokenhearted.
Affection is not the only one rocked by accident, death and dying feature a great deal in the collection as the “… OTHER ACCIDENTS” rocking life out of existence. Death breaks the heart no less in pain in the same way love unconsummated can do. In THE WAITING ROOM (p.22), we behold the “waiting gestures/pressed on faces/ while the mind runs amok” of people with their loved one caught “between coma & eternal sleep”, painfully she passed on as the poem is tagged “(In memoriam Mrs Ojuri).
In A PANTOUM FOR GABRIEL (p.38) poetry is feted with another task to “ferry” the dead “to the hereafter/ where beauty is song”. Idealism and all of the poisons ever invented in relation to death comes up to air in the poem. The religious hogwash of “pearly gates and things promised/where the body becomes eternal.” Except that the journey to this abode for the dead is not a sky bound as concocted by Abrahamic creeds but on earth “across the River Nun”. And like Babalola in A REQUIEM (p.42), the “dead … are better than us … have crossed the threshold to join the gods to become gods”.
Can poetry intercede on behalf of the dead? In BIRTHDAY ELEGY (p.45), we are told that when the “ephemeral farewells acquire permanence,/poets must shut up/& commit to silence.” The verdict however is that it “is a treacherous thing” to embrace silence when a great mind like Pius Adesanmi suffers an accident in an Ethiopian plane crash and died on March 10, the birthday of the poet. The intersections between poetry and death and failed love comes to the fore. Both grieves the heart no less to be broken. The arresting silence of the mind at such accidents on one’s affection and on loved ones, is why “Silence is too fatal an act/ for a poet to commit.”
So Broken–hearted or mourning, yes “Grief is a slippery thing” UNTITLED (p.52). “Grief is what we the living must do” (ON GRIEF)(p.46). But still we must learn HOW TO GRIEVE IN TIME (p.47) for “time is balm,/its reassuring calm/comes to those/who put theirmemories/out at night for the dew”.
The comic relief moment in the whole of the pain and accidents in the text is the next poem FUNERAL DRESSINGS (p.38), the poet journeys us through a Fashionista pageant of the dead. The first on the parade roll call is “great grandmother”. The audience has a “four-year-old mind-” marveled by the performance despite the fact that the clothes on display were merely “sun-dried by camphor”. Followed by “nan”, who is dressed “like an English bride with white platform shoes”. Grandfather “Dressed in beige aso-oke” comes on stage next.
With Ife “someone failed to roll-up his sleeves/in case of a tyre blowout en route heaven.” Heaven turns up here our creation. Nothing feeds the human imagination better than our existential realities. The road to heaven can therefore not fail to replicate our reality of potholes in Nigeria. Not there to behold Tolu on stage. The poet “wonder if they let him wear dark shades”. Then there is the grand failure of costume at the pageant with Seyi, and his fuming with words against the beautician, sorry the “mortician” who “wore him white nylon gloves like an antiquated groom”.
”The poet proved to be too Cain-like with his vegetable load of offerings. The Abrahamic God of Genesis was alive in India already eager to taste blood. Again another reversal of role. The poet personae is unable to play Cain to the end, and suffer love to a murder”
But let’s make a return back to affection, back to therapy and NAKED I AM BEFORE YOU RIVER DUN (p.57) does that perfectly for us. The search for guilt, stripped to the bare, the quest continues as to why this has happened… this Broken-heartedness. The poet qualifies himself with three damning epithets “A dunce, damned, done.” But not so quick…There are no supplications on hand to offer like other poets before him Gabriel Okara at River Nun… Or even Christopher Okigbo at River Idoto. River Dun offers wise counsel to the brokenheart … “The most adored affection, too/become undone./& you are not done“. Suicide is not “an option”. The broken heart can find “love enough” inside of the self to heal and restore one’s “flailing heart“. Even from the depth of “silence of flailing love” (THE ANATOMY OF SILENCE) (p.58).
Healing demands learning “the lofty lesson of silence &/ its kinship with patience”. The internalized battle demands strength and courage from the inside to weather through and behold the light of the shinning sun smiling life back on one’s face to go on with light. Poetry must here not play pretense that it is an easy task to recover when suddenly one is cut off from the other. What the poet refers to as “this silence between two lovers &/two phones.” Ever so busy before, and operators at the connecting end already contemplating keeping the lines permanently connected. How then can anyone understand the sudden coldness? This new fever of “silence“, what is it? The poet tours through different versions of it, but the focus is not lost …it is “The response to unrequited love …”, but this love of the poet was requited, only that now the other one chooses to move up along into the territory of fresh possibilities outside of a country whose name in everything else spells the reversal of fortunes.
A POEM FOR THE CONDEMNED POET (p.61), If anything the poet betrays his affection, how can anyone be guilty of love…can anyone go stand trial for love… Except for the crime of wanting more than the other can give… But this poet is not guilty. If anything he is a worthy ambassador of affection, who carried himself and aired his mind with all of the possibilities that can pregnant the future when two hearts intermingle.
What state is this that docks a man for love? But here… the poser in reality should be what country is this… Is this a criminal or civil suit? The state suing on behalf of who? Who is the Plaintiff? And the ‘witness’ is definitely a she and please mind the answers. And then you begin to penetrate the crimes of the poet. “Do you know this man?” And she answers “I do not know this poet“. A mindful response…this is. Not when both the woman and man have been seen together in public and private spaces. So is it the poet that she didn’t bargain for in the man?And the poet in the man acknowledges the self to have grown “frivolous desires” and expectations is why the lover of a man has brought this on himself.
The accident occasioning the loss of the future and separation of the hearts… and then this trial… When both partners shared the driving seat. Except that the poet and poet personae continued the reversal of roles into a state of confusion that succeeds to make one not to see that this trial is a double tragedy on account of the fact that the poet is the accuse and at the same time the trial judge and indeed the court itself that has “condemned” the poet to “drown”. It is even more heart wrenching when the partner in crime is the one playing “Pontius Pilate,/hands washing water” self away, saying she has never seen him before “No, not in a lifetime”.
Can we completely take side with half of this story.as told by the poet? Is there another side to this story? The right of a woman to be a player. Now that Ocol is the protagonist. Should Lawino not be granted her own right of reply? Or to play the payback. Or are we face to face to economics, the refusal to stoop the ladder down… yes we see this every day, the quest to make love into a ladder to escape from pain and penury. The journey for some others is the Sahara desert for working class youths. But the Big and mighty who already see Nigeria no more as a home, already with the nationality of advance Capitalist country, a citizen already of a European country… and for a young lady, possible coming home whether out of any curiosity or not or even from a parental push, then love cannot be anything but a fling. No more no less. There is a huge difference in sociology in relation to the Diasporan African descendant with Nationality on the African continent or distinct and different with nationality and birth in Europe or America with parents tracing their genealogy to slavery.
This would be my first full read of Dami Ajayi, not because he does commend himself to others in the craft as worthy of the name of a poet but more of a question of failing on my part both in relation to disposition and time. Lagos is a damned heartless city. A city of no measure. Acity of many death of love, and many birth of lost love… aptly described by Jahman Anikulapo as “the city without a soul”. Yet for many it is the city for becoming and for failing at becoming. The hustler’s city of destination for those who cannot dream London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Cologne or Toronto as their home. Then imagine a girl from the ranks of those who can dream these cities of lush and posh crazy enough to fall in love with Lagos, she will never fever the mind to be resident here, For with such status of birth and class what should be “ephemeral” stays ephemeral and not permanent.
In the end there is the monstrous fingerprint of the grand failure of governance in all of our little tragedies, even in a failed love affair that had everything working for it. Pain for the Broken–hearted is not fiction. Nor are these poems mere exercises of the imagination. Dami Ajayi has scripted for us the making of our warmest of true feelings, the possibilities of love. How love can traverse cities. Imprinting places eternally into our consciousness, and still fail to hold itself up to the sun and strand erect to be counted affirming that love never fails. Yes love fails, many a times it is never enough. The economics of existence, our class, our morals, even simple things like how we eat, the sound of food in our mouth, when we eat, how we defecate can break and set two hearts apart. Chemistry is important but economics and sociology are subconscious factors in the background determining the staying power of a love affair.
Those who think class doesn’t define the poetry of our existence, don’t know life. Can anything else outline life more than love? Where everything is possible in the very heart of ‘affection’ and abundance of affiliation …distilling everything good to pleasure the heart…’accidents’ in the best of times minus the mind to think the other way, but then not all accidents are sudden. Some accidents come the way of affection on account of class and country… Where the accident we will suffer tomorrow to come is suspended for living here today and making good of the time… Then we move… No more together… I have also been there.
Aj. Dagga Tolar is a poet, teacher, performer and the founder of Aj House of Poetry, a capacity building platform that nurtures dreams and inspires confidence in young people. He will be a frequent contributor to Bookartville.com