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Letter to a Faint Heart

By John Oryem (Sudan)

A condolence sent to Bruce Cook of AuthorMe on the death of his mother.

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Letter to a faint heart

When death comes

To fetch you

She comes unannounced,

Like the vomit of dogs,

And when she comes

The wind keeps blowing

The birds go on singing

And the flowers

Do not hang their heads.

Okot p’ Bitek; Song of Lawino

When tragedy afflicts us, it is another moment of stock-taking in our lives. By the end of the day, one will know exactly how much the Creator has loved us. The precious years spent, friends encountered, pains endured; perhaps, a near-death event in life; are all indications of our touch with whoever is in control.

In Africa, people don’t die. They just pass silently, gracefully into the world of our ancestors. My friend, let me refer to your mum as; the old woman. There were times when you were fed, washed, hypnotized, scorned and told the right things by the old woman. They were spices that colored what you are today.

Since nature tells us that; all what began will end one day, then having heart that accepts is really what we lack as limited beings.

Death was a long journey for my tiny mind until recently. There was a time later in life, I knew, the long journey should be permanent in a way.

Immediately after the farewell, physical isolation with our ancestors begins; first, they are hidden from innocent eyes. Because of the many questions? Raw minds? One was left to find out for himself or herself.

Carcass being poured on the grave, so water, beer, first produce, ceremonial blood from rams must follow.

Whatever we do thereafter, they are under the watchful eyes of our ancestors; immediate or distant. If good luck comes your way, they happen because of them. Should misfortune befall on you, we only have to remind our sleeping ancestors to come to our aid.

As kids, the respect we gave to nature was not for nothing. Shadowy trees, mountains, river banks, delicate creatures and stones bear the traces of our ancestors.

One day Bruce, if you remember the old woman, don’t betray her smiles, courage, determination and kindness she left for you. If you are loved today, something great might have emanated from her large heart.

Gitanjali Ghei; the Indian poet who died at 16 had much to talk to us older people in her book; The Gitanjali Album.

My Mother

She is like a pillar of strength

To, all, each one and sundry

She radiates the warmth

Even when she passes by

She showers the

Blessings through her


The emotions overwhelm her

The tears flow silently

And yet the smile

And blink a message

Of love and understanding

I hold my breath (in pain no doubt)

And look up in amazement

And try my utmost best

And slowly and silently I

Close my eyes; with thine

Expressions to cool my own


I once wondered how it

Thus could be

A frail soul could bear

The brunt of life smilingly

But it seeped through me

Like water through the plant

That no matter what may come

You’ve got to fight the weedlings

For the survival of your young

With sadness weighing heavily

In the precious eyes

That I adore

She creeps silently and softly

Into the little den

Which is my very own

She looks upon me

With love brimming in the eyes

And reaches out to ease me

When fever’s burning me inside


Her eyes

Mirror the reflection of love

The sadness of her withered heart

The pain of gone-by years

And in those eyes

I seek and find

The friendly glow of confidence

That pulls me up

When all else fails

Including the hand of God.

The strong wind blew

The clouds clapped their hands

I shuddered and clung to my

Faith in that hand.




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