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 a 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.

 

Poem by Gabriel Okara.

There is not a single moment when I did not like this poem after reading it. Ever since I came across this poem, and this I reckon was the time when I was in my High School, I have loved this poem. The lines in this poem will hold true all the time, as it does now more than ever I suppose, that is so well written by Mr Okara.

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5 comments on “Once Upon a Time

  1. Eric Alagan says:

    I leaned down to smell the roses – leaned too close, perhaps, for a thorn pricked my nose. As I dabbed the tiny bubble of blood with a tissue paper I wondered what I did wrong.

    The rose – remained the rose.

    Peace,
    Eric

  2. Truth is a difficult road. It’s good to love a poem or two.

  3. and when i began reading, I was taken aback by the tone. Ramu writing in the “listen son!” mode. 😛 it was a stanza later that I regained!! nice one!

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