Sunday, June 29, 2008

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, son,

they used to laugh with their hearts

and laugh with their eyes;

but now they only laugh with their teeth,

while their ice-block-cold eyes

search behind my shadow.

There was time indeed

they used to shake hands with their hearts;

but that's gone, son.

Now they shake hands without hearts

while their left hands search

my empty pockets.

"Feel at home"! "Come again";

they say, and when I come

again and feel

at home, once, twice,

there will be no thrice---

for then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learned many things, son.

I have learned to wear many faces

like dresses---homeface,

officeface, streetface, hostface,

cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles

like a fixed portrait smile.

And I have learned, too,

to laugh with only my teeth

and shake hands without my heart.

I have also learned to say, "Goodbye",

when I mean "Good-riddance";

to say "glad to meet you",

without being glad; and to say "It's been

nice talking to you", after being bored.

But believe me, son.

I want to be what I used to be

when I was like you. I want

to unlearn all these muting things.

Most of all, I want to relearn

how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror

shows only my teeth like a snake's bare fangs!

So show me, son,

how to laugh; show me how

I used to laugh and smile

once upon a time when I was like you.

Gabriel Okara