We Are All Patients Of The State

I got my autographed copy of Tanaka Chidora’s debut poetry collection, “Because Sadness is Beautiful? on the 23rd of February, 2021 – it has sat on unread-books pile for roughly two years. Life happens and I am glad I finally found myself in the “zone,” two weeks ago to dig in.

The poems here are far from gentle. They are an attempt at, “purgation,” from word ‘purge,’ you know honey?” I am looking for honey to tell us if she/he knows. Until I find honey I feel it is the purging of country; the exorcism of the individual from the clutches of hardship.

Have you ever bumped into the sharp edge of a kitchen unit so hard it was too painful for you to cry. Imagine bumping into it with an almost drying, almost healed scab only to start bleeding again. Some of the poems in Sadness is Beautiful? feel like that indescribable pain. The pain of being in this “Slow Country ,” whose main occupation is to allocate sadness to it’s people.”

Chidora writes from memory, of a place not too far. Over 20 of his poems are dedicated to people – most of them writers, friends and family; childhood memories, events and places lived and visited. Some kind of twisted nostalgia exists in some instances.

Magamba Hostel is a kaleidoscope of the many textures life can take. The rituals of christianity, politics, commerce, art, poverty-all are encapsulated from block 1-13. Here the language is of affection, a bit indulgent and forgiving of the seemingly “violent,” environment.

Magamba carries bittersweet memories of ‘dust,’ and ‘shit,’ and many of it’s people are so used to discomfort that they start to mistake it for luxury;

“shit smells nicer
when you flare your nose…”

There is a giving, a vulnerability, pitying of self. A romanticism rather, of the status quo and how somehow this could be the magnet to this place that is Magamba Hostel.

In remembering there is an urgency to preserve what was, the little that carried beauty in order to maintain sanity in all the chaos e.g. in the poems Mother, and Father

“I want to preserve Mother in my mind
I want her to live forever
to traverse the footpaths of memory
until Memory and Mother become one.” P. 111

“I remember waking up every morning
with pride that somewhere in this country
my father was moving around a big machine.” P.113

It is here that you may be tempted to believe that sadness is beautiful through the recollection of happy childhood memories. The memories are a place to escape to for comfort.

I find the use of the phallic symbol excessive. It appears one too many times throughout the book, denoting power and it’s abuse, it’s dominance over the weak. I wonder if Chidora is saying, we are in all this, ‘shit,’ because of the three-legged visionaries who have led us these so many decades. When the personal becomes political, the tongue wears an unsanitised veil.

The language is raw and blunt but honest, touching wounded places of truths many may be afraid to dine with. “Language,” exists here not as a dialect but as the energy to place a place and a people in a particular time. My naughty side almost convinced me to title this write, “Of phalluses, phantoms, buttocks, and shit…” 🤣🤣🤣

There is an evident dejection, a surrendering to that which the narrators cannot change. It is echoed in the poem, “Waiting,”

“our delight is in standing
because standing means
we may perhaps move …” P.13

moving, backwards, forward, sideways, up and down. What confusion this is to a “patient of the state.”

Hope seems to be fleeing, a reflection of how dire the circumstances are;

“my blinkered vision cannot help me tell
why the green on the flag has become pale…”

to a point where one begins to harbour thoughts of leaving but again, “sometimes leaving is not easy,” because one must carry the luggage of memories to whatever newfoundland.

It reminds me of a saying we had in high school. “Make the best years of your life count, the best years of wearing a school uniform, once those are over, you are on your own.” This was to say that as a student or young person, mostly you are cushioned from life’s hardships by your parents, you don’t worry about the price of school fees or bread, they worry and experience on your behalf.

Adulting as it is called these days throws you into real deep-end life situations, you become a citizen, “a father too,” if unlucky, a patient. A patient of the state.

Because Sadness is Beautiful? was published by Mwanaka Media & Publishing (Pvt) Ltd in 2019.