Wednesday, July 29, 2020


A surfeit of grief will tax even the most hardened observer
What more the pangs received by an exiled soul
For we were linked by more than a shared birthday
And, in your passing, I am left forlorn and heartbroken

The blows have come too quick in this ghastly pandemic
Relentless flurries of dismal jabs that are hard to parry
Even with the best preparation, it is hard to take the news
There's no easy living with this kind of abuse.

I remember my eighth birthday, a day I gladly spent with you
First the party at my house, and then at yours, it was round two
Perhaps that was peak happiness for me, for my ninth was under the curfew
And involved a hospital visit, a harrowing trip in light of the coup

After that, we only lasted a fortnight in the new military order
Before we made our escape from the warmth of Ghana's borders
But we were reunited, my aunt, a few years later
Our shattered lives hastened by the Ghana must go excavator

In North and South London flats we made our respective homes
Picking up the pieces and writing new tomes
At the prime of your life, you had to start back up from scratch
Find your way, externally displaced, making do with grey council flats
Those cladded towers for refugees somewhere past Elephant and Castle
And other areas like Peckham and Deptford, full of immigrant bustle

Well, no matter, you got down and did the African hustle
But righteous always, you never forgoed the high hurdles
No short cuts for you, you took these matters seriously.
And as for your duties as Auntie, they were all executed deftly

"Oh you this boy", you'd shake your head and laugh
And tease and redirect me back to the right path
Subtly done, this business of raising
Children, as observed in the village of waiting
You were truly mother to all and sundry
And thankfully, praise God, even to the adult me

Your other ministry was to tend to all those dispossessed souls
That woman we met in Shepherd's Bush whose husband beat her
That woman whose boyfriend stole her wages and gambled
That man, disconsolate that his loved one drank and dissembled,
Hiding bottles of alcohol in all manner of nooks and crannies
She couldn't hide the smell, even with those curiously strong mints that she carried
Her liquid predicament only spelled marital trouble
But you were there for both of them, quick fast, at the double

Troubleshooting with concern, it was your duty of care
A shoulder to cry to on, it was your cross to bear
You'd sometimes enlist Kwame for legal advice
Summon the troops in the community, and try to make nice
You provided solace for our tribe of Lonely Londoners
To soothe this immigrant life full of peril for us foreigners
While at work you were solving issues for English old age pensioners

Later you went back for the degree, and became a social worker
You took those night lessons in social studies
Even when you really should have been the teacher.
You'd long ago graduated from the school of hard knocks
Your Master's degree should have rather been in social living
You were the comfort suite for our community of scarred beings

back view

I look at that picture of you with that fabulous winter coat and that hat
Vaguely wondering what business we had living in that Brent Cross flat
You always caused a stir when you made an entrance
Causing a commotion, putting gathered men in a trance
There was no fuss, it was a simple matter of fact
You were highly attractive, the world would just have to deal with that
Your brand of African womanhood made everyone feel at ease and comfortable
Don't judge a book by its cover was your mantra, no matter how memorable

You didn't suffer fools lightly, let alone rogues and tyrants
You were Ghanaian excellence transplanted, a free gift to Londoners
How our country missed out, your talents so carelessly discarded
Your skills of discernment, now vouchsafed for Babylon's local government

Those grim-faced thugs, a pack of common looters
Some claiming ideology, but all sadly misguided
Were dispensing blood and fear back home with no compunction
You rather took our exile as an opportunity
To showcase the merits of a different direction

Recall those night services when you'd receive the holy spirit
After driving to a watch party in East London
You'd bring up the dawn having sang praise songs
To God be the glory, his eternal light we inherit

And so throughout, you were my blanket of soul
I appreciated all the care and love that you brought
Each word judiciously selected, the right bon mot and anecdote
A storyteller, you weaved your tales with intricate patterns
Oh to sit at your dining table or kitchen as the world turns
Stories grounded in love, you'd sing Always and Forever
Those punchlines and morals were how we learned
You raised your three children imbued with a sense of God
Full of confidence, with not a trace of the immigrant's diffidence
Fearless my cousins, but really this was what you imparted to all of us
We came from something else, the descendents of chiefs and queens
The clarity of your thought guided us like moon beams
Taviefe's finest daughter, you infected us with your laughter.

Our Gang Road

Circling forward to a moment of ultimate loss
I had just sent the note to your soul sister
My Aunt Sue, whose distress at your passing runs far, far deeper

I learned of your death in the most awful case of serendipity.
The two of us had been discussing the story of a woman named Betty
I'd proudly told her that I'd finally written that overdue bit of toli
Recalling that I'd changed the names, but that you were the D in her story.

I was headed out with the Wife and the family
A Sunday walk to break the covidious monotony
The phone vibrated, a message from Aunt Susie:

"Good morning, just began reading your ode to Betty
Am so grateful that you spent time to write beautifully
about her. Perhaps it's providence, but Dela passed away about 2 hours ago."

I faltered. A shriek. This news did grievous damage to my soul.
Tears. Wracked with loss, there were uncontrolled sobs.
"...My special Aunt...", eventually was all that I could manage.

They gathered around me, full of concern.
Hugs and pats. "Are you okay, Daddy?"
The Wife could see the damage: "Should we turn back?"
Oh, it is still too much to bear, I can hardly write that.
At length: "No. Let's keep on walking."
And so we continued, I had to monitor my breathing.

It was the hardest walk, I admit, I faltered at times.
Crumpled more like, it was hard to stay in a straight line.
The tears would have broken through Akosombo dam
And torn through the bridge at Atimpoku.
The waters of the Volta river at her most furious
Couldn't compare to my grief unleashed, I was delirious.
But I had to walk tall in remembrance of you
Take in the sights of the city, and remember my familial duties

Each step on the long walk brought back a fond memory
I renamed you as Yaa in my tale of Catford Bridge
In my roman-a-clef, you were my Helen of Troy
I couldn't believe the twists and turns of that nighttime odyssey
And as for the Bullet From A Gun concoction,
You were the muse injecting whimsy in my new directions

All those years I would stay with you regularly,
You became my rechargeable link to the land of Her Majesty
Rule Britania was viewed through your unique lens
The faded glory of the United Kingdom by way of your Catford fence

While JJ and crew were proceeding with impunity
From Ghana with love, yours was the gift of global citizenry
We gained a more earthy and grounded Kofi Annan
Doing diligent duty on the streets of South London
The nations you united were sundry tribes of Londoners
Some, like you, suffering the reign of rogues and dictators
But you eschewed bitterness about our lost decades
Preferring to focus instead on our lives remade
If only more had been like you in our moment of need
As in the parable, some birds might have devoured the seed
But you stood up and were counted and continued sowing.
You found the good soil, your grains of thought keep growing.

And then we turn to that bit of tragedy
About the dear friend you took in named Betty
The words I had written for her now seemed ready made for you

This is an elegy rather than a lament,
For such thoughts never crossed her mind.
This is an ode for a woman in full,
A spirit heaven-sent.

My aunt, I hadn't realized it was the night of your marriage
31st December 1981
That came the military coup that would cause us all such damage
Could it really be that you, ever since, had to celebrate that strife?
Irony is the key register of African life


You made your way home to Ghana on your own terms.
Carefully plotted, as was your wont, every step of the return
There was one twist that was a surprise, as I would later learn.
Of Ghana's New Christianity, they've written many tomes
Of fraudulent pastors and the amounts they managed to spend
Indeed, where one would have expected to see a Mama Benz
Your new church was rather for folks who lived in uncompleted homes!

There were those bouts of treatment, you were in and out of hospital
The injustice of all this happening to someone so careful and methodical
12 years fighting cancer, you bore the brunt of considerable pain
But there were no complaints, even physically diminished, your spirit was the same.
Perhaps we should turn to the good book and quote Timothy:
"But godliness with contentment is great gain"

And so I thought I'd write a poem to you as a memorial
And perhaps read it out loud on the day of your burial
"Strictly White or Black & White", I've been told is the dress code
Well, I'll wear this suit of words on the written page and this ode
"All COVID-19 protocols and directives will be strictly observed"
The superspreading event should be your memory, if justice was served
My special aunt departed is to me quite intolerable
I really can't bear the thought of another Zoom funeral
So I'll try to conjure an Ewe dirge in the grandest tradition
A celebration of your life, Dela, and your enduring mission

In memory of Dela Dusu

Songs for Dela

Some music to soothe the soul. (spotify)

See also: Grief, a playlist

Also related: Ode to Betty Brown

I nominate this note for The Things Fall Apart Series under the banner of Social Living.

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