Nigeria: Christmas in Biafra | Chinua Achebe

This sunked-eyed moment wobbling
down the rocky steepness on broken
bones slowly fearfully to hideous
concourse of gathering sorrows in the valley
will yet become in another year a lost
Christmas irretrievable in the heights
its exploding inferno transmuted
by cosmic distances to the peacefulness
of a cool twinkling star…. To dead-cells
of that moment came farway sounds of other
men’s carols floating on crackling waves
mocking us. With regret? Hope? Longing? None of
these, strangely, not even despair rather
distilling pure transcendental hate….

Beyond the hospital gate
the good nuns had set up a manger
of palms to house a fine plastercast
scene at Bethlehem. The Holy
Family was central, serene, the Child
Jesus plump wise-looking and rose-cheeked: one
of the magi in keeping with legend
a black Othello in sumptuous robes. Other
figures of men and angels stood
at well-appointed distances from
the heart of the divine miracle
and the usual cattle gazed on
in holy wonder….

Poorer than the poor worshipers
before her who had paid their homage
with pitiful offering of new aluminum
coins that few traders would take and
a frayed five-shilling note she only
crossed herself and prayed open-eyed. Her
infant son flat like a dead lizard
on her shoulder his arms and legs
cauterised by famine was a miracle
of its kind. Large sunken eyes
stricken past boredom to a flat
unrecognising glueyness moped faraway
motionless across her shoulder….

Now her adoration over
she turned him around and pointed
at those pretty figures of God
and angels and men and beasts-
a spectacle to stir the heart
of a child. But all he vouchsafed
was one slow deadpan look of total
unrecognition and he began again
to swivel his enormous head away
to mope as before at his empty distance….
She shrugged her shoulders, crossed
herself again, and took him away.

Culled from: Chinua Achebe Collected Poems Anchor Books (2004)

Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. He was best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature. Raised in Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. His later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God(1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah(1987). When the region of Biafra broke away from Nigeria in 1967, Achebe became a supporter of Biafran independence and acted as ambassador for the people. After the Nigerian government retook the region in 1970, he involved himself in political parties but soon resigned. From 2009 until his death, he served as a professor at Brown University.

 

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