How to Dine with Death: A Poetic Analysis of Oyekunle Ifeoluwa Peter’s “Of Memories We Hold Dear” | Ebubechukwu Bruno Nwagbo

OF MEMORIES WE HOLD DEAR | Oyekunle Ifeoluwa Peter

We’ve learnt the different ways to dine

with death imposed by cold palm wine;

of village joints where meats are smoked

of ladies shaking hips and bones;

how silence could raise so much noise,

how porridge can make rich men sweat,

how mothers dealt hot blows on yams

on cold nights we watch moon and stars.

 

how locust beans are tricky spice

that trigger aroma suppressed

by earthen lids on coal burnt pots

receiving life from burning flames;

how fiery stones are strong support

that holds the key to murmuring stomach,

how melon marries pounded yam

sending saliva down our throats.

 

how tears and sweat meet on our lips,

how meats are wars we fight to win,

of days we tear hot beef apart;

splashing sweet hot soup in our eyes

how pounded yam and okra repel;

a myth that triggers spark and spell,

memories will open pages of the past

of days we feast under the tree.

We have heard that he who must dine with the devil must have a long spoon; in “Of Memories We Hold Dear”, Oyekunle Ifeoluwa Peter tells us “how to dine with death”, the devil’s closest ally.

To deal with death, Peter tells us stories of partnership between cooking utensils and spices to fight back hunger. This is vivid in the second stanza of the poem:

how locust beans are tricky spice
that trigger aroma suppressed
by earthen lids on coal burnt pots
receiving life from burning flames;
how fiery stones are strong support
that holds the key to murmuring   stomach,
how melon marries pounded yam
sending saliva down our throats.

Aside the “united we stand” partnership between spices and kitchen utensils to wipe out hunger, the hungry person is expected to fight as well. In the opening lines, the poet persona tells us how to fight back hunger when it tries to impose death on us. When the cold hands of death try to silence us, we silence it with cold palm wine. When hunger shakes our bones and joints, we go to the village joint where “ladies shaking hips and bones” cheer us as we chew smoked meat to smoke out death.

In stanza three the poet brings to mind memories of:

how tears and sweat meet on our lips,
how meats are wars we fight to win,
of days we tear hot beef apart;
splashing sweet hot soup in our eyes

This brings to mind imageries of the fight we engage in while devouring food.

To savor, we have to devour.

We engage our clinched fingers and teeth to tear hot beef, ponmo and fish apart. This is more likely when we encounter obstacles in our plates in form of “shaki, kanda (hard cow skin) and towel meat “. In the struggle, the stubborn meat splashes pepper in our eyes and brings tears to our eyes. But these tears are tears of joy and the splash sparks flashes of victory in our eyes.

In stanza 1, lines 6-7, we see that hunger has no respect for people’s status:

how porridge can make rich men sweat,
how mothers dealt hot blows on yams

The rich are not spared in this fight. When hunger calls, we see rich men sweating and swearing off death imposed by hunger saying, “I will live to eat.” Even our peaceable mothers become boxers and deal out hot blows on yam. This hot blow is an analogue of the fight between mortar, pestle and yam according to Oku-ola Paul Abiola in his poem “Mortar, Pestle and Yam!”

“at first look like enemies/one hitting the second against the last”. But their fight is like the training a team engages in before facing an opponent. In this case, the opponent is hunger and the death it imposes.

Oyekunle Ifeoluwa Peter’s “Of Memories We Hold Dear” is highly imagistic, descriptive and narrative. The poet achieves these effects through the use of imagery, repetition and flashback.

Imagery:  The memories we hold dear are brought so close to our senses through the use of imageries. The poem contains images that appeal to the senses of sight and taste. Words such as “cold palm wine, meat, porridge, locust beans, spice, aroma, hot beef, sweet hot soup” produce mouthwatering effects “sending saliva down our throats”.

Repetition: The poet uses the descriptive adverb “how” three times in each stanza of the three-stanza poem. This is to give deeper description and to foreground the theme. This repetition gives the poem some rhythmic effect and commits the message to our memories.  “How” describes the reason we recall these memories; the manner of recollection and to what extent we hold these memories dearly. As the poet persona’s memory comes to live through his descriptive narrations, our memories too are reawakened, opening the pages to the memories we hold dear in common.

Flashback: Our sense of sight is set in flashback mode as the poet persona shows us how “mother dealt hot blows on yam”. After which the yam, now pounded, marries melon soup. All these happened “on cold nights we watch moon and stars… on days days we feast under the tree.” The poet uses flashback, past tense and descriptive tenses to lead us as we “open pages to the past”.

Other techniques used by the poet includes personification and symbolism.

To make the narration more believable, the poet gives human attributes to nonliving elements. Locust beans is described as tricky for exposing the aroma of food. Likewise, fiery stones are said to hold the key to life. Egusi and pounded are said to marry; all in an effort to satisfy the belly. We also see personification in stanza 1 line 7 where “Mother deals hot blows on yam” and in the last stanza where we engage in fight with meat. This figurative use of language makes you ask if yam and meat can really fight with man.

In stanza two, locust beans is used as a symbolism for spices of various kinds that conspire to expose the smell of food even when the pot cover would have preferred to keep them close and shut. Opening up this aroma, the nose invites the mouth to get ready, and whispers to the murmuring stomach “murmur not”. He uses “fiery stones” to represents different cookers such as gas cooker, electric cooker, oven and stove. These cookers give life to our pots which in turn give us life served in plates of food.

“Of Memories We Hold Dear” is worth reading for its originality and figurative use of language.

Through his skillful use of words and style, the poet connects with our memories. He gives us a poem; a song is celebration of victory over hunger and death. Of how we successfully dined with death and came out alive. When hunger comes to threaten us again, we can boldly return to these memories that teach us how to reel out the right dosage of hot blows to silence it.

Ebubechukwu Bruno Nwagbo
Moderator, PIN Food Poetry Contest

 

 

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