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Echezonachukwu Nduka: Transition


What the old teacher said to me, young philosopher,
cannot be set to music. I am in a mansion full of books,
drowning in a pool of voices & theories trapped in pages.
I can no longer vouch for my innocence in unguarded hours.
Even Epiphany, my piano, like twin sisters at daggerpoint—
weeps for this loss of sanctity.

My teacher’s testimonial suggests that I am hyperactive
in more than three worlds. Once, seated in a room of debaters,
I quoted two personal encounters:
An aunt took a pose & asked for a quick portrait.
After a careful gaze, I painted my mother instead.
She looked at the painting, held back tears & said
blood only conquers death in little drops.
I did not agree with her, nor what makes human blood
play tricks on the soul of artists. When I tried to paint her tears,
she held my hand.
Next encounter: I was a composer commissioned for a string quartet.
After days of hunger strike in the woods bonding with nocturnal silence
& daytime groans, I filled my scores with notes untamed.
And when the musicians played, their strings broke & the audience
threw roses on stage, not as kudos to players—but as farewell
to the grand old cello. The instrument was older than the player,
the conductor & a quarter of the audience.

On my study desk, I am mediating between characters in a
playwright’s error— writing agreements & speeches with which
the day of peace will be marked. It seems I am planting a tree.
At what point should I begin to worry about what fruits it would bear?
Would it bear fruits at all? I may not be sure of fruits, but I am sure of poems.
It is true that the old teacher once argued that poems are fruits. I disagreed.
Poems are poems, I said. And with that came a new baptism.
I was dipped in water & sweat for good measure. The old teacher’s counsel
was to go back to the beginning & stop at the end. There is no end,
only a beginning, I said. He asked me a question:
Who owns language? Native speakers or aliens & new comers to the tongue?

In my room, a different kind of star has fallen.
There’s no way to tell if daylight has dropped her weapons
& desecrated my windowpanes with whimpering presence.
I am substituting ash with melons, tasting salt to tell the difference,
but my taste buds now exercise rights to protest.
What makes a holy day holy? The priest says he cannot tell.
He swore to submit to the whims of calendars all his life.
The old teacher broods on a badly painted portrait on my wall.
I suspect he doesn’t know the answer either.

In a book I’m reading, a man is mourning the absence of grief
with rum & incense. I have joined a group of wanderers who
have forgone the joys of living in denial. Here is what is left to happen:
The magician’s wand will tell onlookers the scary secret of the abyss
that is its master’s bag. The third eye sees what happens in the dark,
but the night is too burdened to bear witness.
So I’ll write it down & wait for my turn to testify.

Leave me now with nothing but lemons & the silver lampstand.
The trick is that there are no new tricks for the twice-beaten theorist,
only letters from ex-students full of questions.
The old teacher did assure me that the ultimate answer is yes & no.
I’d rather applaud the timpanist for whom drum rolls are thunderclaps.

The old teacher knows the pain of philosophizing in winter,
knows that snowman in the yard is temporary envoy with
nothing new to say. Every winter, the old teacher’s daughter
becomes an artist. Her snowman looked exactly the same since
the past five years—and there I was, young philosopher,
finding meanings in icy ephemeral beings.

These changing seasons will teach me more than I already know.
To tell why snowflakes betray the weatherman’s forecast is off the scope.
All learning is key for survival, says the old teacher.
Mine is an ill-fitting pendant—an engine of sorts for repelling fearful vibrations.
O harmonic resonance of all unguarded hours, keep me safe in the pages
of books I am yet to write. Every passing time wets itself with tears of inactions.
Inks flow back to feathers that deserve them.

When Bonaventure of the brazen retaliators was served a hammerhead
at the construction site, he found new love in philosophy, mysteries &
unresolved puzzles weighing down his soul.
To him & I, every new moon sings of a question the world is yet to answer.
We may never know with whom the season is at loggerheads, but we know
who hoards halogens & gins to appease unkind weathers.

What the old teacher said to me, young philosopher, may have found
a worthy composer. Bespectacled on New Year’s Eve, I spend hours
on letters & wine from a young kinsman.
The old teacher’s note now rekindles my doubts.
O harmonic resonance of all unguarded hours, ride me to the precipice—
but rock me back gently to sail across the changing seasons.
Poetry © Echezonachukwu Nduka
Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

Echezonachukwu Nduka
Echezonachukwu Nduka
Echezonachukwu Nduka, poet and classical pianist, is the author of the critically acclaimed collection Chrysanthemums for Wide-Eyed Ghosts (2018). Hailed by The Guardian Life Magazine as artist extraordinaire, his writing has appeared in 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry Vol. II, A Thousand Voices Rising: An Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry, Transition, Expound, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, River River, Bombay Review, Ake Review, Saraba, Jalada Africa, Bakwa Magazine, among others. He currently resides in New Jersey where he writes, teaches, and performs regularly as a solo and collaborative pianist. Find him online at


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