Warring the war of life; a review of Adeola Juwon’s Ellipsis

Title: Ellipsis

Author: Adeola Juwon Gbalajobi

Publisher: The Roaring Lion Newcastle

Year of Publication: 2021

Number of pages: 52

Category: Poetry

Reviewer: Babatunde Adeleke

 

Robin Oliveira, the American Author was the one who quipped that “Love and War, it seemed, worked by the same rules. One has to hurry before the fires flared out”. It seems like it is In perfect understanding of the delicate balance that exists between both that ellipsis was born. From the dedication, we already have an inkling of where the war that this collection is will be fought. It is in the same spirit that I will advance and dissect the military strategy that the author deploys in his attempt at winning the war of life where every piece is a battle:

Laying skirmishes of love

How else do you start a war if it is not by testing the waters with a small unit of your army, In Ellipsis, we don’t have to wait too long before we get into action. We begin with To the Girl Who Taught Me that Ruins Can Be Beautiful, It could have passed for a soliloquy until you read in between the lines and you begin to pick out a familiarity of longing.

“You packed the rubble & built dream castles from it.

You showed me that home is made of flesh & bones –

of welcoming arms & smiles that calm storms.”

The opening piece is a reminder that even a general, after conquering the world must go back home, one of flesh and bones to calm the storms that rage within him. The battlefield pans right as the author pours adulations on his beloved.

“Your eyes – like stars sparkling

in the night sky –

sing the music my soul craves.”

You don’t have to be a poet to understand where the bayonet of this language points; it is music as the poet asks that his beloved, the girl who conjures butterflies in his belly to teach him the dialect of her heart. The poems that would follow the opening poems show the poet as one who is skilled in the art and act of skirmishes; irregular, unpremeditated fighting of the war of love. In For we who Dread Love, the poet introspects on what it is to dread love as he ends the philosophical metrical composition with an existential, religious question,

“We who dread love are not to blame;

wasn’t death wrapped in a kiss & gifted to Christ”

The same pattern of searing questions hangs their head over what is this thing your absence left where the poet sings a dirge in remembrance of the departure of a loved one. He tries to fill the void she has left behind but, in the end, he asks yet again, what more can sadness do to a man like me?

You would think that by now, the general is out of commission with grief and that there is no fight left in him. He still proves that he is up to the task as he deftly pens When I’m around you.  

 

“in the belly of the night,

I dream of your face –

the flawless cut of an artist.

your name is the song i sing when i wake.”

The poet pays homage to the master tacticians, the generals whose tactics he deploys on the battlefield as he builds his arsenal of figures of speech, the elders on whose shoulders he stands to give orders.

“i’m here again in the shoes of forerunners –

Solomon, Neruda, Jide Badmus…

your love is the muse that stirs my hands.”

It is no surprise that he belts out bullets of well-manicured metaphors from the browning of his pen. This poet is not an assassin, he is a General carrying out a massacre.

 

 

The King David Maneuver / Appeasing God

With the resistance cut down, it is time to chase down the enemies and run them ragged, right? Or maybe this author has other plans for us. There is a way the author uses the opening page of each part as a window. He opens it to the flooding of the light of his intentions, how he intends to fight in this next phase.  And in part two, the handwriting on the wall reads:

“As the deer pants for streams of water,

so my soul pants for you, my God.”

We can pick flight, knowing the deer and how it moves from one place to the other. The key clause here, though is God. The author takes the battle to a whole new level; the supernatural one. How do you fight the war of love in the presence of the almighty? Come with me.

The opening line is from psalms, the famed collection of the famous King David of Israel. That man could war, he could sin, but he also knew how to sing A song of repentance.

The first poem in the second part is the key to unlock this door, as Song 001 Opens with

“your word is a mirror & before it, i stand juxtaposing myself,

the impurities of my heart unveiled before me.

lusts of all shades battle to darken my heart.

i turn my heart to the east &

open its blinds – flood me with light.”

It is a plea and a knowledge that it will be done; knowing that the word is a mirror means that whatever is set before it will be seen, but this is a different kind of mirror, it sheds its own light. But is the poet doing this for God’s sake or his lover’s sake?

“how shall a young man cleanse his way?

say your word is a treasure i found in a field –

i hid it in my heart,

a rose amidst thorns.

spread, rose, spread over this garden,

fill it with beautiful fragrance

that my lover might make it his home.”

King David, the composer of the psalms must be so proud of the poet. He is a general at war and a relentless praise connoisseur and does he have an eye for beautiful women? We should ask Bathsheba and Abigail.

Next, the poet brings us to the communion table, where he is the meal. In Portrait of my body as Unleavened Bread the poet writes;

“For my body is bread –

I rid myself of all leaven.

Tonight, I’m a boy dousing the flame I carry in my loins.”

It is the depth of the imagery in the last line that carries us into the multiplicity of the next verse.

“I set myself on fire & walk with feet shod with grace –

my fragrance smells like life, like death…

heaven’s harvest.”

Heaven’s harvest, the personification of life and death by the poet here is apt. It is religious imagery, one that has been with us since forever. It is where the eternal battle of good and evil ends.

Completing the maneuver with Songbirds and Flowers, the poet writes of what most poets think of, the beauty of the Earth but keeping in mind that he is seeking God’s face, he opens the lines with him yet again.

“my God,

how beautiful is your world!

see the sun filtering through my blinds,

kissing me with grace, asking me to face the

day with your joy aglow in my heart.”

The flurry of the imagery helps achieve the superfluous quality of the world, helping us see things as the poet sees them.  … the sun filtering through my blinds, kissing me with grace. There are only a few things more beautiful than to watch the sun streaming through the blinds. The beauty is spell bounding. The reaction steadily follows. face the day with your joy aglow in my heart.

The poet pours encomiums on God by noting the beauty in the works of his hands. If you have never seen a General stop in the heat of battle to heed the call of the one who created him, you should read Ellipsis.

 

Man know thyself

Plato had always known that to conquer oneself is the hardest of wars, this author knows too. So, he places the pieces where he fights his own self at the very end. Opening with Jide Badmus’s famous title, there is a Storm in my head, the author picks out the third dot to fight the battles that have bedeviled him. After all, writing is salvation, it is therapy, so the poet wastes no time to wrest himself on the page.

First, he baptizes himself into this fight, into the war where will emerge both victor and vanquished. In Iribomi, he expunges the sadness, the numbness that comes with receiving the prognosis of a mother’s illness. He describes the reaction in deft tones;

“after the news, you saw your body for what it was:

an animal in autothysis,

a hollow house where sadness hangs on cobwebs –

or what do you call the emptiness left by a betraying body part?”

The shock leaves an emptiness, missing the loved one is a continuous battle, and rather than fight it, the poet outlines his way of dealing with it; by leaning into the water that is her body.

“today, the sea is calling you,

each flap of her waves an invitation to baptism.

you heed,

walk into her open arms &

join your body to the waltz of her waves.”

If loss is a part of human life, A sutra about Fate takes a bird’s eye view at the existence of man and dissects it. The poet questions the elements, the circumstances, he weighs the pros and cons as he wonders about existence and why things turn out the way they do.

“We arrived with destiny lined in our palms –

stars wrapped in flesh & blood,

We’re meant to be great,

but our dreams are ferried on paper boats.”

As he examines the gap between what was meant to be and what is, the distance between fate and reality, he belts out the question;

 

“Stranded on the island of despair,

where do we go from here –

do we sail backwards to straighten crooked fates?”

If there is a cause for the headache, it is usually from memories. Penning his experience in Memory as an Allotrope of Pain.

“they still come to me in my dreams,

visions of limbs that become kites

flying away from their joints;”

The poet looks at memories as a modification of pain, of sorrow and yes, science backs him on this one. Our bias for remembering bad memories is legendary, science says it is due to a negative bias. The way he sews metaphors together in itself is enviable,

“of kalashnikov seeds sowed into young bodies.

it lingers on the corridor of my nose,

the odour of bodies that became barbecue

ascending as a sacrifice to a deranged god.”

They might not be everyday sights but the feeling of death and loss, burnings and bombings is one that we have become used to. This is further emphasized by

“a head rolled unclaimed,

the mouth that plastered kisses on a

son’s lips in the morning, open in despair.”

The shock, the dismal expression that another person has gone, the sigh that escapes the lip accompanies yet another corpse to heaven’s gate. The poet introspects, he questions death and the occurrence of the same. To find answers, he asks questions.

And for, the poem from which this collection picks its name represents the climax of the battle for self that the poet wages. For Ellipses is the characteristic poem where the author asks rhetorical questions, he questions all and none. He answers himself and all who care to listen and read. Written dismally, with grave seriousness, the poet knows that he is bringing a gun to a food fight and while he can stop it, he goes ahead and shoots;

“Broken boys are pallid rooms full of horror.

Their skins are scriptures of scars –

the testament of waivers they got from Death.”

He questions existence,

How do you court life when Death is wooing you,

when he promises stillness to the storms in your mind?”

How do you reject such advances? How? You can pause and ponder but the poet is not done questioning. Next, he puts choice on the spot, he questions it.

“Do you become an ellipsis –

do you choose to…

With the question hanging in the air, he gives a dismal answer, like a town crier.

Broken boys are ellipses,

flowers that wilt in the dawn of their bloom.”

 

Life is war and Adeola Juwon cracks its surface in this collection of fast-paced poems, each one a battle. There is no lack of casualty as figures of speech rest in piece and peace, their parts strewn all over the battlegrounds that this collection is.

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