Nii Ayikwei Parkes
THE MAKINGS OF YOU
“Almost impossible to do; describing the makings of you”
– Curtis Mayfield
You will tell no one
of the Christmas day when you sat
alone in your miniscule studio,
raised a forkful of sautéed potato
to your lips, and closed your eyes;
how savouring that mouthful of electric heat
and some farmer’s zealous labour, followed
by two hours of reading Neruda and Li-Young
Lee, was your only way of remembering
that life’s sack carries pleasure as well as pain.
At that dinner next week you will tell
nothing of how vacuous you felt, nor
will you mention the time when tortured
by your girlfriend’s inability to trust you
you drank cheap whiskey and clawed your walls
while singing along to Curtis Mayfield’s
the makings of you, as though the song’s lush
beauty would save you from depression.
No, you will tell jokes and smile and make
predictably witty and charming comments;
you will tell no one of the day when,
as an ashy-kneed eleven-year-old boy
in boarding school, you surreptitously
sat on the concrete steps of your classroom
block to pick up a groundnut you had spotted
earlier, cleaned it against your brown shorts
and slipped it in your mouth where you let it sit
for an instant, before you chewed it for six slow
minutes, so you could fool your own stomach
into thinking that life was better than it was.
All these things that make you the man
that you are, you tuck beneath your dark
skin and never share: so nobody really knows
you, although most people say they like you
because of your enigmatic smile.
That first winter alone, the true meaning
of all the classroom rhymes that juggled snow
and go, old and cold, acquired new leanings.
With reluctance I accepted the faux
deafness and odd looks my Accra greetings
attracted, but I couldn’t quell my deep
yearning for contact, warmth, recognition,
the shape of my renown on someone’s lips.
Always the canny youth whose history
entailed life on skeletal meal rations
during the Sahel drought of eighty-three,
I lingered in London gares to carry
cases for crocked and senior citizens;
barter for a smile’s costless revelry.