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A Ngraffi sage's poem of Adages

by N. Muma Alain

It is happening, O!
It is happening!
What I dreaded most is happening!
My gong is growing dumb and my voice is cracking!
I am becoming nothing but an ordinary Ngraffi* man
One of arguable substance
Whose passing shall have little consequence
But I have walked enough of this long road to know the worth of my words
So even with this failing voice I must give you my counsel!
“A child carried on its parent’s back has little concept of how long or tedious the road is!”
Pay heed all you who hear
For I shall soon be gone!
Be careful what you say
For your tongue is a wand that casts powerful spells
Spells that build, spells that destroy
When I was a boy my father said to me:
“We humans were created with two eyes, two nostrils and two ears but only one opening for a mouth so we could see many things, smell many things, hear many things, but not speak of all that we’ve seen, smelled or heard.”
Be careful where you look
For the eyes that show your body the light
May also guide it to the darkness
There is a reason why the elders say:
“Don’t run after a fowl and lose a cow!”
“The tongue cannot pretend not to know what the teeth are chewing!”
So be careful how you go about and sniff
For not every odour that shall answer your nose’s call will be pleasant
And never forget:
“When trouble comes visiting, it comes along with its chair.”
Be careful how you listen
For not everyone who smiles with you and croons into your ear is an ally
Beware the words of an enemy - they are the seeds of a thorn bush!
Keep in mind that no one can ever be praised by all on this road
This is why my mentor always warned:
“The clever ear expects to hear not only the comforting cheers of acclaim but also the shrewish snipes of criticism.”
Be careful what you feel
For what you feel may be your salvation or your damnation
“If you make yourself into a sweet potato you will be eaten up raw by the moles!”
I tell you:
“If trees could bear money, many would marry monkeys!”
But “No matter how fertile a plot of land is, it will never sprout a home!”
Be ever careful, therefore, but never impenetrable
Or you shall block out those precious specks of virtue
Blown with the dust by the winds of fate across this dusty road
“A bird may look down at the land with pride as it flies, shunning it, but it is on that same land that it will find a tree on which to perch.”
I have journeyed far from whence I came
I tell you: my eyes have seen that all one needs, and all that one can ever need can be found on either side of this road
And what you say, where you look, how you go about and sniff, how you listen and what you feel
Decide which side of the road you shall choose to go to seek what you need
Be careful! For this is no easy road, nor is finding what you need easy
The weather, too, shall not be on your side always
The storms and droughts shall come
With mercy and with cruelty
And how or if you survive them is dependent on the side of the road you’ve chosen to walk
Choose wisely, tread carefully!
“If you hurry, you will go late!”
I have neither wealth nor monolith in my honour
No family or friend with either of those
Even so, as I leave now, I leave you with my wisdom
True beyond the truest of truths, false beyond the falsest of falsehoods
Disregard it now or keep it with you always

*Ngraffi:- local, Cameroonian moniker for “grass field”.  It is often used to describe the people who inhabit the dubbed “grass field” landscape (North-West Region of Cameroon), regardless of their tribes.

This poem has appeared in the Kalahari Review and Easy Street Magazine

95th Weekly Poetry Contest