Bringing Home A Far-Away War: Brian Turner, an American Soldier and Poet

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Here, Bullet

By Brian Turner

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

(Brian Turner wrote this poem while he was in the Iraq war, fighting, often writing the book when he took a break)

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How is it that poetry can do what a bullet cannot do? How is it that a soldier who has been on the other side of the fence where war separates the civilian from the soldier, the unarmed from the armed, the fighter of the war from those who cannot explain why there is even a war, can teach us all in simple poetry that war is bitter and bloody and painful and sad and complex and angry?

Brian Turner, the poet turned soldier and then poet again was the guest we brought to our campus at Penn State Altoona in Altoona, Pennsylvania this week Thursday. At first, when I heard that a former soldier was coming to read his poetry on our campus, I said to myself that I could not attend, could not sit through the reading of poetry by a soldier who had been on the other side of the issue of what we human beings call war. I felt in myself that I would end up crying or that I would scream or become angry or pity him, the soldier, so I did not want to go.

I also thought maybe I wouldn’t like him, wouldn’t like his poetry or his point of view or maybe, maybe, I thought to myself, I would not think his poetry was good enough. After all, I am a poet too, am I not? Am I not one writing also about war, about pain, about my own war, the Liberian civil war that many people in the world may not really care to know about as they do the Iraq war, about a people who the world forgot even while they died for fourteen years, hundreds of thousands died without the world blinking? So, I thought maybe my own ability to appreciate and also interprete poetry and be critical like my professors and fellow students taught me to do, I, knowing who I am, was afraid that I would not like Brian’s poetry and his place as a veteran simply because it is easy for one who has survived the carnage of war to hate the entire art of warfare.

So I was afriad. But somehow, I decided to attend the reading. The reading was after all, sponsored by my department and my university and since I wanted my students to attend, I needed to attend as well.

But I was surprised by what I experienced that night as Brian Turner began to speak.

First, I attended the dinner and met him- a real living person, a soldier who was also a human being, a wonderful individual who has not yet been corrupted by fame, a fellow poet who seemed to really care about the world from first meeting him. At the dinner we faculty were encouraged to bring one of our students to, here we were, meeting a soldier who indeed had seen war and had really survived partly because he was writing poetry. I felt connected to the poet in Brian and to his spirit of survival.

Now you must understand that as a survivor of the Liberian war, I do not have many reasons to care about a soldier or a fighter. I do not have many good examples of soldiers to recall, and you better not blame me unless you too have seen what innocent civilians suffer as a result of wars fought by soldiers, and most often, all that we see in a war is destruction at the hands of one group of fighters against the others. Sorry, if I disappoint you, but when one has seen such carnage as wars impose on us humans, it is very likely one will care little about soldiers or the art of warfare.

My own memory has nothing to do with any one country since wars anywhere will always have the same outcome. It is my first hand experience. Experience that is based on watching soldiers kill innocent people, burn down whole families and destroy one’s own country does not distinguish any soldier from the other, no matter the country. Experience is experience.

But again, I was wrong to think that I would not like the poet/soldier coming to my campus to read from his beautiful book, “Here, Bullet.”

The reading was electrifying, powerful, painful, filled with images of death, of suffering, of the reality of war, and at the end, one knew that the poet reading was not just a soldier who had survived war, but that he was a human being who cared for not just his battalion or his group of fellow soldiers, but also about the people, the ordinary people he had come to help, but could not really help as much as he wanted to.

For me, it was the poetry first, that toughed me, that made my heart bleed, that made me see that yes, here was another fighter for peace who knew how to take the pen and tell the world the truth that we had not been told in all the thousands of stories we’d heard so far. I connected to Brian because I believe that the poet can tell the war story just as if it were happening here to us.

If you do not believe me, just read that last line of the poem: “here is where the world ends, every time.”

Yes, the bullet ends the world for somebody, for hundreds of thousands of people around the world every time, and if you do not know it, Brian says that too.

When Brian Turner said, “Bombs are dropping in Iraq; are they dropping here too?” I looked at him with much admiration and hope. “If they are not, why not?” He answered his own question.

I felt hope because so many people I know do not care that the wars raging around the world are not just those people’s wars, but also ours. And if we do not feel their pain, then something must be wrong with our heads.

Bombs are dropping in Iraq, yes, they are, and if they are, we need to feel those bombs just as though they were falling in our own backyards. This makes us human beings. I understood him to mean so many things. I understood him to say that we must all feel the pain of both the soldiers and the civilian because it is a very painful thing to be in a war. And if we feel, we must end the fighting because it is too costly to fight such a war.

Bringing home a far away war is not an easy thing. The images on the web of the war are too horrifying to even view. The book Brian read from are filled with so many terrible images, one cannot sit through a reading of his without shuddering. For once, I told myself that night, I was sitting through an experience that I often give my audiences whenever I read about the horrifying details of the Liberian civil war. Poetry is indeed relevant to history, to politics, to war, to peace, to bringing an end to conflicts. For me, Brian’s reading was a validation of what I always knew: that poetry can be both a witness and a powerful tool against war.

Poetry in the hands of a soldier can be a powerful reality.

Maybe someone will listen someday and bring an end not just to the Iraq war, but also to all of the other wars that plague our world today–Maybe, someday, we will all drop our weapons and talk peace, maybe someday.

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Announcing My Third Book of Poems: The River is Rising

The book is ready for prepublication order on Amazon.com at reduced price:

My third book of poems comes out of Autumn House Press on December 1, 2007, and I am excited to introduce you to a few poems that are in that collection. Before I bring the poems to you in this blog, let me give you more information on the book. The book’s title, The River is Rising comes from the poem, “The River is Rising,” which was inspired by the end of the Liberian civil war. Some people without much reflection may think that the poem is a dedication to the Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but I will say it is not at all. The poem is more than that; I mean that it is more than a dedication to one person. I have a lot of respect and love for Liberia’s President, the first woman president in Africa, but the poem is however dedicated to all Liberian women, especially, those who suffered as a result of the terrible civil war.

Here are some reviews about the new book and my two previous books:

Patricia JabbehWesley’s The River is Rising is both brilliant and heartbreaking. Survivor of the brutal Liberian Civil War, Wesley bears witness to a life she lost to that war, and to what it means to be a refugee who has remade herself. Her candid, sly humor covers the scars. Surviving entails enduring guilt, working through memories of horror, and finding the courage to start over in this strange country, the U.S., where people talk passionately about sun and vacations, write seriously of “invisible goddesses in the sky,” and it is “an abomination to know the world’s pain” (“Until the Plane Drops”). Some of Wesley’s moving poems are wise, some full of controlled fury. Some drip with irony. The speaker of one poem watches the Super Bowl, a game she does not know or understand, and thinks of the many “players” who never knew they were playing a game “until someone found them dead by the road side.” “To every war,” she says simply, “there are no winners” (“Broken World”). I am in awe of these beautiful, necessary poems, and the glory and largesse of Wesley’s vision.

——Cynthia Hogue, author of The Incognito Body and Flux

 

 

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s poetry is heartfelt, wise, and alive… One senses in her that rare combination of someone who has been deeply schooled in both literature and life, and who has integrated those two into a deeply felt and shrewd worldview.Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago

This second book…has something of the incantatory nature of Celan’s poetics, in which the sheer repetition of certain phrases and ideas points out the irresolution in the mind of a survivor… Part of the strength of this collection is that it does not allow itself to wallow in the bleakness of sentiment, but instead confronts and examines the power of death and suffering… —- Publisher’s Weekly (about Becoming Ebony)

Wesley writes with clear-eyed lyricism about her ruthless and beleaguered homeland, and the bittersweet relief and loss of the diaspora. Her poems are scintillating and vivid…

— Booklist *starred review* (about Becoming Ebony)


HOW TO OBTAIN A COPY OF THE BOOK

Go to amazon.com and place a prepublication order for The River is Rising at the reduced rate of 32 % and have amazon ship the book to you by December 1, 2007. The book is also in time for those of you who might need to use it as a textbook, and please don’t kill me for being a salesperson. I’m only doing what is right to do in this day and age. And while you are at it, you should know that the two previous books, Becoming Ebony (SIU Press, 2003) and Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Press, 1998) are also available for purchase.

My publisher wrote me an e-mail requesting that I inform my friends about the new book, and I said sure, I’ll be glad to. So I sent out e-mails to only those who are in my permanent e-mail address book, I mean those I felt comfortable writing. And I was surprised by the outpouring of kind words from dozens of you out there.

I have already received nearly a hundred e-mails from my friends, colleagues, and fellow writers, all of them very excited about reading another group of strange wondering and meandering poems from my very questioning mind.

Over the years, I have been very humbled and fortunate to meet thousands of poetry lovers throughout this great country, from one college campus to another, from one neighborhood bookstore to another, from church group to church group, from coast to coast. Most recently, I met thousands others in South America, people who could transcend all else for poetry.

Many other poetry lovers I have never met in person, but through the power of the Internet, I have connected with so many good people, some of who are more than fans to me. I have been humbled by the many kind reviews and reviewers who have given my poetry the attention it has gotten so far. My poetry, which is so African, so much about exile, about the Diaspora, and filled with so many images of a far away land, and yet, my reviewers have sought to understand me and to love me despite my short comings. I think what they have seen is that my poetry is poetry, and there is no difference between poetry as long as it speaks the language of poetry. I feel that poetry is like a human kind. We are all the same. We only speak different languages and come from different backgrounds, but when we are poked with a needle, we bleed only blood if we are human.

Over the years since my the publication of the two books, I have found myself in turn becoming a fan of the lovers of my poetry, a fan of my reviewers who keep me in check, a fan of their very insightful reviews, and a student of their writing, of their insight into my poetry. Therefore as I pause for this new birth to take place, the birth of a book that reminds me of the birth of a new child, I am curious to see who will be brave again to tackle the new book as so many did with Becoming Ebony. I must confess, I do not know most of my reviewers, which is the best part, and yet I know them because I know what they have said about the books.

After I sent the e-mails out two nights ago, many many of my kind friends immediately responded from all over the world, from all sections of this country, expressing kind words to me even though I was simply telling them of a book they already knew about. Thanks to all of you, if you happen to find time out of your busy schedules visit this blog. If you happen to come into my little world where my blog is another place where I can find solitude after my family is asleep, I say thank you. Sometimes, one needs a blog. Sometimes, one needs a poem, sometimes one needs only a cold glass of ice water. Tonight, I need all of them: a blog, a poem, and a cool glass of ice water.

Thank you friends. Thank you for those kind e-mails. When your book comes out, when your turn comes, when your child goes to college, when your time comes, let me know, and I will be there.


SELECTED POEMS FROM THE RIVER IS RISING:



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The River Is Rising

a song for Liberian women

The river is rising, and this is not a flood.
After years of drought, the ground, hardened

and caked in blood, in dry places, here we are, today.

River banks are swelling with the incoming tide,
coming in from the Atlantic just beyond the ridge

of rolling hills and rocks in Monrovia.

Finally, here we stand at the banks!
Finally, here we are, see how swiftly

the tide rushes in to fill the land with salt.

Fish and crabs and the huge clams and shrimps-
all the river’s creatures are coming in with the tide.

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Do not let your eye wander away from this scene.
Yes, all the bones below the Mesurado or the St. Paul

or Sinoe or the Loffa River will be brought up
to land so all the overwhelming questions
can once more overwhelm us.

But they are bringing in our lost sister
on a high stool, and there she stands, waving at those

who in refusing to die, simply refused to die.

This is not a song just for Ellen. This is a song for Mapue
and Tenneh and all the Ellens there are.

This is a song for Kema and Musu and Massa.

This is for Nyeneplue and Nyenoweh, for Kou and Glayee
and Korto, for the once solitary woman of war.

This is a song so Wani will also dance.

This is a song for that small girl child who came out
just this morning. They are still seeking a name

to call her- a river name, a name from the water
and from the fire too. That solitary mother in flight

will no longer birth her child by the roadside
where shells were her baby’s first bed.

Let the womb quiver!
Let church bells jingle!
Let hundreds of drums pound, Klan-klan-teh!
Let men bring out old trumpets
so the wind will take flight!

Let that small pepper bird on the tree branch cry
and sing no more the solitary song.

Let the Mesurado behind my home or what was my home
or still is or maybe, maybe, who cares?

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Let no man stand between us
and the river again!

_______________________________________________________________________________________

At Point Loma

At Point Loma, a student may dip a toe or two in
the ocean, in between classrooms and teachers, in

between falling in and out of love, between the pages
of a book’s silence. On a fast day, the windy air, misty,

salty, so much beauty for the eyes, and I’d say, what a life!
In my small, Pennsylvania town, old railroad tracks

still wind their way around Altoona, old steel country,
rusting away from lack of use, the green mountains,

rising like clumps of dirt mounds. Altoona, where
some will never understand how a student can learn

anything sitting on a beach. But in San Diego, the
hotel suite, where my kind hosts have lavished this

undeserving luxury upon me, a suite that hangs over
the bay, the lovely balcony frightens me though.

What if I slip and fall into this old bay where a man
rises out of his boat at dawn as if he were a fish.

His wheelbarrow, squeaking with things he is hauling
on to his boat on the bay. There are so many boats,

the water has no air to breathe; the air has no water
to drink. There is so much in this life to live for,

and yet my boat neighbors have chosen to live on
the water, not on the shoreline, on the sand, or on

the bare cliffs where Point Loma University, so
blessed, sits along the peaceful shoreline as if waiting

for God. This is the sort of place that follows
the traveler around forever, like the old stories Iyeeh

told me in Dolokeh. I am not one to fall in love
with a place so easily, but somehow, I cannot help

smiling at these palms, these foliage, these people,
and this wind that takes me way back home where

these shrubberies also grow wild in Monrovia.
I wonder what was on God’s mind, San Diego, when

he made you? This sort of place makes my soul cry
for that other shoreline so far away, where home sits

by the sea, waiting, too, where the ocean is wild and hot.

Monrovia Revisited

This is the city that killed my mother;
its crooked legs bent
from standing too long,
waiting so angry people can kill
themselves too.

No grass along street corners—
so many potholes from years of war.
Immigrants from all
over the globe used to come here
on tender feet,

in search of themselves.
Abandoned city—
a place that learned
how to cry out loud even though
nobody heard.

This is the city where I first learned
how to lose myself.
Windy city, blue ocean city.
They say a city on the hill
cannot be hid.

The city of salty winds, salty tears,
where stubborn people still hold
us hostage after Charles Taylor.
You should come here if you want
to know how sacred
pain can be.

 

 

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If Mothers Rule the World, there would be no wars??????

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Liberian war survivor walks on shells in Monrovia

Sally Field at the Emmy Awards

I am sitting in my living room, not grading papers or writing a poem or drawing up my first African Lit. test for my Tuesday class. I am actually working on my laptop and watching the Emmy Awards with one eye. Suddenly, I am startled by a speech on stage on my TV screen. An actress, Sally Field has just made an incredible speech to a huge applause, but she stops everyone because the speech isn’t done yet, she says. She has something else to say about war, so I stop to listen. I like it when people stand up against war, any war, and tell the world to cut it out and stop killing innocent people. Then I hear her say something which I have heard before: “If mothers rule the world, there would be no wars.” But her last word is cut short by something, something electronic or something more powerful than something. The last word, “war” is lost somewhere between me and my TV. Or was it lost on everyone too?

I ponder the statement for a long time after that before grabbing my blog site to post. “If mothers rule the world, there would be no wars….”

this could be true, you know. What if we were in charge of the world, we mothers, mommies, the life givers of babies, the ones who alone carry babies from the first skipped cycle to the last kick before birth, the ones who for nine months endure sleepless nights and morning sickness, the throwing up days, not being able to keep food down there, the times when the baby’s legs are so long, our abdomen actually felt the sharp pinch of a toe or leg. What if we had the choice of giving our sons AK-47s and M-16s and bombs and grenades and missiles and war planes to fly over enemy territory? What if we had to stop baking a pie just because we needed to make a quick decision whether to begin a war in Sudan or Somalia or Liberia or Sierra Leone or Colombia or Iraq or somewhere so far away we couldn’t care less? What if we had to toss aside our laptop where we were writing a poem about war while the evening meal simmered and suddenly, here we are being called on to call in the troops to declare war so the sons we gave birth to would go to kill other sons we gave birth to while the daughters we gave birth to watched the grandchildren? Oh well?

Would there be wars in Sudan? Would there be wars in the Middle East? Would there be wars in West Africa, in East Africa? Would there be wars in Colombia? Let’s examine Darfur, Sudan, where African Sudanese are dying while the Arab ruling government waits for the world to force them to stop killing other Sudanese.

In Sudan, the refugees displaced by the war are already in the millions, and there are a quarter of a million dead already? Would we start wars? Or would we end wars? Or can we say that the wars that have caused us so much pain around the world could only have been started by men? I don’t know. This is a difficult question to answer, but Sally, it was worth saying and putting out there.

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Refugees in Darfur sit and wait forever.

I don’t know whether or not women rulers would avoid starting or supporting wars. All I know years after I had survived that war in Liberia is that wars kill human beings. Wars destroy the world. Wars never ever build up the world, and there is no one who can convince me otherwise. I know that when I was forced to be a refugee, I was afraid that the world had forgotten that I and my country people were being tortured, that every minute of the day, my country people were dying of starvation, of bullet wounds, of bombs, and that women were being raped every minute of the day. They were being tortured and their babies were being killed. I knew that it did not matter to me then whether or not it was men or women in charge of the world. What mattered then to me and still matters now is that HUMAN BEINGS are the ones ruling the world.

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Devastation Caused by Flooding Across Africa: An Effect of Global Warming

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What Dirge

By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
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So what shall I use to wipe my brow?
To bring back a life
snatched away in its prime?
What shall I say, and what shall I lay hands
so helpless upon to wipe the sorrow
from my brow?

What shall I wear to mourn a life
whose end has dealt us this blow?
Shall I wear black, so when our townswomen,
hearing the drums, come wailing, wailing,
they shall see the sorrow
of my heart on my dark lappa?

Shall I tie a string around my forehead?
Shall I lie prostrate on The Mat?
Shall I cry tears for those you’ve left us to feed
when we ourselves cannot feed ourselves
in a land where the hungry, forever hungry,
keep the faith?

What dirge shall I sing?
Shall I recount the battles fought at Nganlun?
Shall I sing of blood shed at the cracking of a gun
when I myself am so afraid of the gun?
What shall I say when the women,
hearing my song, come wailing
and knocking at my door?

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BBC news photo of flooding in Ethiopia

Read news at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6997141.stm

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This evening I received a phone call from my son, MT’s friend, A’Shanti, who told me in her worried voice that there was a massive flood that had just devastated Africa. At first, I thought, there she goes again, the America that refers to an entire continent like a country, but I was wrong. The flooding, she explained had taken over huge areas of the continent from East to West, something which seemed almost impossible.

I became worried at this point especially because she said that the flooding had affected Ghana in a really terrible way. Well, with my son studying at the University of Ghana this semester, coupled with the knowledge that thousands of Liberian refugees are still stranded in Ghana, my heart sank. I know, you’d say, what about the others who aren’t related to you? My heart went out first to those closest to me and then to the rest of that beautiful continent that has seen most of the world’s troubles throughout the ages. To think that global warming that is mostly caused by us in the wealthy countries should now affect the poor of this world is disheartening.

After I hung up the phone, I went to the web to find the information I needed on the flood. There was no news on my TV as usual. There was almost nothing on the internet from most of the news sites that we watch here. A’Shanti had warned me that the only news of this world crisis would be found on BBC site. Fox news, she said also had a little coverage, so I tried first for Fox. And of course, she was right, I did not find any cable channel to help me, and for some reason, Fox had nothing to tell me.

Sometimes the world’s misery can be so overwhelming, we feel helpless. That was the first feeling that hit me after I read the first page on BBC. The flooding that engulfed the massive continent of Africa from the Horn of Africa through Central and then to the West of Africa is almost an unbelievable reality. From Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, East African countries that are equipped to deal with heavy flooding were themselves very overwhelmed by this flooding. The damage done to hundreds of villages and towns seemed almost unbelievable, and the rains are still falling.

According to news estimate, there is going to be a very high death toll. Hundreds of thousands of homes have already been destroyed, and the flooding is expected to cause much disease and food shortage, not to speak of the homelessness of millions when all is done.

The flooding also affected West African countries like Ghana from the northern regions, through to Togo and other West African countries. According to news sources, many villages and towns have been wiped off the map of Ghana.

Not too long ago, hundreds of Liberians in Monrovia were made homeless by erosion from the Atlantic, a devastation caused by both the beach mining as well as global warming. It is not yet clear how much this massive flooding that has devastated so huge a region of the continent will affect Liberia, but any flooding that extends as far as Togo is sure to impact not just those affected countries, but all of Africa and the world.

My heart goes out to the millions of poor farmers and village people out across this vast region that was struck by the ugly flooding. My heart goes out to the refugees in East Africa, including Somalia who have been dealt another blow by the heavy flooding. My heart goes out to the West African countries of Togo and Ghana, and probably Liberia that have been so gravely affected. Did you hear the news today that such a disaster has befallen our people? Well, if you did, pass on the news so everyone can know.

Global warming is affecting us here too in the US, but here, many are fortunate because of the resources available to us here. But for the millions of poor people who have been stricken in Africa, many will perish before help arrives.

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G. Baccus Matthews: A Liberian Hero Has Burnt Out A Great Flame

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A Great Man is Gone: A Dirge for Baccus

By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

 

 

So the Town Crier is gone?
So another gourd is broken?
So another son is gone home?
So the hero is gone?
Now, let all the women gather
before the great hut and wail.
Our country has lost a great man.
Let all the townswomen gather.
Let all the elders gather.
Let all the children gather.
A great man has gone down.
Baccus is gone down.
A great voice is lost in the woods.
Let the women come out with open hair,
and let the dirge singers sing the hero song.
Bring the song writers out for a song.
Let us lay out the lappas
so giants can see
what a giant Baccus was.
Let no one go out to the farm today
because the candle is out.

 

 

 

G. Baccus, as Mr. Matthews was affectionately called by his supporters, died on Sept. 7, 2007 at the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. He was fifty-nine years old. He was the founder of the pro-democracy, pro-reform political party, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) in the 1970s. PAL as a political party was the first major political opposition party in the age-old True Wig Party country where it was almost illegal to form a second political party in Liberia. Mr. Matthews was a political prisoner over and over during the William R. Tolbert years. He served as Foreign Minister in the Samuel Doe government and during the interim years when the Liberian civil war raged. He was also a Presidential candidate during the election that brought Liberia’s current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to power. What he will be most remembered for is his ability to never stop fighting, to keep on talking about the ills in our society, to sacrifice his life for what he believed and for the Liberian people even when he was misunderstood. This made him both the admired statesman that he was as well as the misunderstood politician that many would blame for Liberia’s problems. For some of us, he was a fighter, a great statesman and an eye-opener to the reality of our nation’s ills.

 

 

A MEMORIAL

Gabriel Baccus Matthews– a Liberian hero and fighter has let out the great flame he carried almost single handedly over the decades. The candle has gone down with him finally. If there are horn blowers, let them blow them. If there are dirge singers, let them cry. Let the powerful talking drums now pound!

Let old and young women come out and wail. Liberia has lost a hero in the middle of the battle.

The dawn has come for the mourner to let out the cry of the mother whose son has gone down.

Let Liberia sigh and remember one of our greatest who has gone down when the crooked and the evil doers, the warriors who have killed our people, and all the angry war makers continue to live on.

If God had asked any of us who should go, would we have chosen Baccus, the one who came marching into our lives as Liberians, the one who opened up our eyes in a day when giants still slept while a few people misused our resources?

I first discovered Baccus, as he was known by all of us who knew what he stood for, that year in 1979 or probably before. But his sharp sounding cry to us Liberians to wake up and stand up for our rights, to stand up to the status quo, to rise up and stand up for what we believed touched me that year. I was a junior student in college, still naive about the corruption of our day or about the ugly history of the Americo-Liberian monarchy that ruled us for over a hundred and thirty years then, and was certain to continue ruling over us indigenous peoples had powerful voices like Baccus and Amos Sawyer and Tipoteh and all the others not come out to call on us to wake up.

And yet some will blame the civil war on these heroes, will blame all the evil we have seen on these great men and great voices, but I stand in awe at the willingness of giants like Baccus to stand up and teach some of us that we indeed had rights, that we were indeed entitled to what others were enjoying in our country, that we too, belonged.

And then we awoke and began to not only stand up for what we believed, but we woke to become enlightened, to go to school, knowing that one day we too, would lead our nation. Today, many of those in leadership are indirectly or directly the products of what Baccus Matthews stood for; they are indeed students of Baccus, of his vision, whether or not they admit it. We were influenced in many positive ways because Baccus stood up. And for decades, he stood up and stood up despite everything. He is a hero not because he was Foreign Minister or because he led a political party, but because his voice was the first voice many of us heard and woke up to the reality of Liberia. He is my hero because he fought and fought, and died fighting still being young. He fought and would not be happy with peanuts when he was given peanuts; he fought if all he could do at a given time was to fight.

Yes, Liberia will mourn. We must celebrate the greatest among us even when we are too far away to join in the mourning song. Baccus, may your soul rest in peace.