How does one say that those born with certain congenital defects are genetically luckless? Dami says, “Somehow genetic miracles were in a hurry/To take two steps at a tim/After clueless folks picked peculiar genes/From the Black Lucky Dip…”
In his debut collection of poems titled Clinical Blues, Dami Ajayi, physician and intending psychiatrist, weaves together genetic, clinical, social and religious dimensions of the experience of “Adenihun and Others”, mostly Africans, who suffer sickle cell disease.
I will attempt to comment on his work generally and dissect the poem for sicklers: Clinical Blues IX (For Adenihun and Others) pg. 49.
Again, how do you say that those born with certain congenital defects are genetically unlucky? How do you illustrate that “creatively” and present the issues quite simply and effectively? Let’s indulge a bit in some metaphysics here. Imagine a soul that is going to be conceived in the womb. It stands, on a long, queue with millions of other sexless souls who are going to be born –their fate in whatever body they find themselves in depends on luck [by choice].
A pouch called DNA hangs around each soul’s neck. Two calabashes marked “BLOOD GENOTYPE” containing genes marked “A” and “S” are right in front. Each soul, blindfolded is supposed to pick two genes (A or S), one from each calabash. Here is the consequence: “A” is healthy, “S” is sick; if you picked “A” then you’re going to be healthy in spite of picking an “S”. But you must not pick “S” twice: if you do, then you will be a sickler. Some pick “A” and “S”, some “A” and “A”.
Sadly, Boripe picked “S” in both attempts. Eventually born a sickler.
Art speaks to life. Poetry as an art has a lot to do with health (or the absence of it), as health itself has a central place in human existence. It’s not just that good poetry is health to the soul; a well-crafted piece of poetry, like Dami’s, can vividly paint personal experience of or acquaintance with disease and its attendant pain. I was not surprised that the poems in Clinical Blues were written while Dami Ajayi was in medical school at Obafemi Awolowo University. Being clinically trained myself, I understand how such a training that intimates one with the sick, the dying, the decaying and painful facets of human life can make one rethink the corollaries of our beautiful, yet fragile existence.
I bought a copy of Dami Ajayi’s debut anthology of poems from my good friend and literary entrepreneur Femi Morgan several months ago at the Artmosphere Event in Ibadan. It’s a book I had been hoping to get since it was published.
As a poet myself, I have only sat down to skim through Dami’s collection when I realised the truth in the testimony of Ayodele Arigbabu, publisher of Onyeka Nwelue’s The Abyssinian Boy, when he said: “Dami Ajayi’s debut runs the risk of being labelled a classic.” I thoroughly enjoy his anthology.
As the tourist guide in Clinical Blues, Dami takes you not merely through his 88-page book: you’re actually on a thrilling adventure as you read. The collection echoes pain and love, unfulfilled longings and feats, a contrast of nonchalance and sense of duty.
At a time you feel the chill in your marrows as you’re touched by the excruciating pain of the solitary sickler as she groans to the drum beats of a silent pain. Another time, you hear the clattering of students sipping life away at the bar or the soft voice of a young lover who bides his time hoping some campus girl would finally succumb to his intrigue.
And I love the love stories, some of which remind me of Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress where the poet wishes that “vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires, and more slow…”
From expression of shy love in Pomenade III pg. 13 (“I am scared to say I love you too”); a generous offer of love in Table for Two pg. 16 (where the poet “served my heart in/A fragile casserole”); and in Break-Up Instructions pg. 33 (where the poet tells his exiting lover: “Leave the memories in the incinerator/Autoclave yourself”) etc., you can see the literary ingenuity with which Dami folds simple, everyday words by several degrees of conformation to convey rich ideas and meanings.
Let me now dissect the poem on sickle cell disease.
Watch this space. Wait for it…