No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon would have to forget.
The air was heavy with odours
of diarrhoea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies. Most
mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull and then –
singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life this
would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she
did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.
Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013) is one of Nigeria and Africa’s most recognised and decorated writers. He is more renown for his novels and essays. He came to limelight as a poet with the publication of her book, Beware Soul Brother and other poems (1971), published in America as Christmas in Biafra and other poems (1971). The volume was joint-winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1972. Chinua Achebe continues to be an inspiration to several people around the world.