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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Chant a psalm

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But my friends would not let me be. One of them, Foday Samateh, a student of English in a New York university, wrote a piece in an online Gambian portal guying me to return to writing. “Break your silence with a letter to [the king],” he exhorted, “The Silent Londoner must come out and restore equilibrium to the unbalanced state of mind as a matter of exigency.” Foday was a tad upset that the king had thrown a beach party after his latest coronation to celebrate “the defeat of intellectualism” and wanted a censure from me. 

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Duh! As if a censure from a poor son of an ink would have any cathartic effect on a king as great as Xerxes who would even lash out at the sea 300 times for… You see, I like beach parties and I love celebrations and festivals. After all Gambetta once said, “les temps heroiques sont passes” – the heroic times, the age of Nyanchoya and chivalry, have passed. Now, we are all penguins in a colony hopping in unison. The Greek writer Democritus wrote that “life without festivals is like a long road without an inn”. In these times, it is better to pray than to preach, not so much unlike the Trappist Monks! 

When I was growing up in Brikama, there was a logger called Ba Foday Janneh who lived at the end of our street. A gentler and goodlier man never lived. He never had much money – sometimes not even for tobacco for the pipe ever stuck to his mouth – but he always had a smile and a little pet advice for us, the young boys of Brikama Saatay-ba. One late afternoon, while I was taking my dogs to hunt for the hare in the copses in the outskirts of Brikama known as Wolf’s Creek (Sulu Dinka), he stopped me and said: “Baaba Sharif, make sure you head for home before darkness sets in and remember when you climb the grey plum tree, take the honey but do not destroy the hive.” And with that he patted me on my head, smiled with dewy-eyed adoration and continued munching his cola-nut.

Now Foday Samateh, since we cannot preach, I pray, what else can I tell the King but Ba-Foday Janneh’s little advice: Take the honey but do not destroy the hive.  And remember the counsel of the ancient prophet Sulayman Junkung, The Wise, when he said: “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride; but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.” And with that I add this little prayer of a psalm:

 

Hear me 

Mighty heavens

Sand grains of the earth

Waters of the great ocean

Winged spirits of the high

 

I speak to You

Who sent Your messenger

By cavalry and camelry

From atop a mountain sylvan

 

The thunder repeats Your praise

Mountains crack in fear of You

The sun dims before Your splendour

Oceans quake from the heat of Your nostril

Earth melts like wax at Your gaze

 

Your power reigns this day

Tomorrow and yesterday

Who besides You knows a thing?

No leaf falls to the ground

No reef shoots from the ocean floor

But with Your command

 

Some say Uzair is Your son

Some say Jesus is Your Son

Some say Anax is Your son

But I know 

You are not an anchorite

 

I bow before no man

I sing the praise of no king

I pour libation to no god

The meditation of my heart

And the words of my mouth

All the days of my life

Are for You, The One

 

You say you hear

The prayer of every supplicant

Then I pray for John

Him of many names

 

Once you told Your people

‘I have given strength to a warrior

A young man I exalted

From among his people

His right hand

I shall set over the rivers’.

 

Make him that young man

Make him a lion

With honour on the tongue of truth

Make men follow him

Like the rain trails the wind

Make his soul beautiful to You

Like wild sunflower in bloom

 

Do not girt him by his sins

Make his heart soft like dusky dew

To be a receptacle of Your light

Speak to him like you did Moses

Give him like You did Dives

Look upon him like you did Abraham

 

Do not make his brook dry

Do not make him sleep on a bed of tears

Let the clouds of Your mercy 

Pour their moisture

To water the soul of his heart

 

Lord, make him drink

From Your River of Unstaling Water

From Your River of Ever-Fresh Milk

From Your River of Ambrosial Wine

From Your River of Nectarous Honey

From Your River of Eternal Bounty

 

Make him not one of those

Who waiver between this and that

Who neither belongs here nor there

Who believes in the morning

Only to disbelieve in the evening

 

Give him the wisdom to eschew

Easy praise and the hard sell

Make him a cloak of righteousness

To wear until his mercury cord is severed

And his dust returns to the ground

 

Bestow on him the lucidity of Luqman

That quintessence of faith

Give him the patience of Job

The vision of Balaam

And the strength of Samson

 

Make him a hunter like Nimrod

Of hearts not heads

Make him a bard like Naphtali

To rap Your beautiful names

Make him a warrior like Ali 

Whose bow shall never break

 

You Who created the rivulet 

Beneath Mary as she laboured

By the palm tree trunk

You Who taught

The wisdom in the chronicles of Alexander

 

Make Your love burn like a furnace

On the tablet of his heart

You Who made him from nothing

Fashioned his bones

Covered them with flesh

And gave him a tongue and two eyes

 

You the Owner of the Beautiful Names

Supreme Owner of praise and glory

Lord of the Phoenix and Scorpio

 

I Fadel, the Son of Dembo

Chant this psalm

With voice raised like a trumpet 

In the quiet valley of Santang-ba

To the beat of the cymbals of my heart

In Your praise, to Your glory.

 

My dear Foday, since we can preach, only pray, this I pray to the King for the king. Amen

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