The Poetry Of Man And Machines

by Felix-Abrahams Obi

My first attempt at poetry was poignant and dreary. I was bored and lonely in Lagos after being out of school for months and not sure when we’d be called back to campus in Kano to resume studies. I picked up my pen to write. to attempt couching a poem but I didn’t know what the rules were. Not the least daunted, I pressed on to write all the same. I suppose we have rules of life etched deep into our hearts that guide and dictate the experiences we soak deep into our being. I figured poems were like short sentences that had varying lengths. I didn’t know about rhythm and rhyme of poetry. I didn’t know about metaphors and idioms. I didn’t know about sonnets, an ode or the Japanese haiku.

All I could write was about the human cadaver; the greatest fascination that caught my attention in the anatomy dissecting room at Bayero University Kano. So I titled my first poem, “The Lonely Cadaver” as I imagined what life on earth was like for the ‘owner’ of the body (now cadaver) which became a useful tool for our study of the human body. I was as lonely as the cadaver lying dismembered on the dissecting table, and felt the connectedness of lonely hearts. I was glad I made a ‘friend’ in the cadaver who liberally had taught me anatomy. Anatomy would have been as vague and abstract as a mathematical theorem save for the cadaver; the physical representation of anatomy!

Armed with my first poem upon resumption at school, I gleefully posted it on the Press Club’s notice board ostensibly to show-off my foray into poetry. But the poem was received with mixed feelings from the readers (spelt my ‘fans’) whom I had regaled with juicy stories in the past. My classmates had faced the cadaver each day we had dissections and no one wants to recall the nauseating smell of the dissecting room. None of us liked to touch the stiff body of the cadaver which reflects how ours would turn into after we give up the last breath. The cadaver told us a glaring and uncomfortable story; a tale of life we loathe to confront as reality!

So many years have passed since I couched an ode to the cadaver that ‘taught’ me anatomy. I have had no reason to dissect another cadaver since then, save for times I have had to hold back tears upon sighting the lifeless body of a close relative or friend. I didn’t see their bodily remains as a cadaver, but another’s been called a cadaver and was dissected that I might acquire practical knowledge of the human body. That knowledge proved so helpful throughout the years I worked in four different hospitals in Nigeria taking care of patients who suffered from one orthopedic, medical or neurologic ailment. Though I’ve been working outside the four corners of a hospital for a couple of years now, I doubt if the sensitivity to human suffering which I gained those years is ready to leave me anytime soon.

The act and art of listening to the voice of a suffering soul became fleshed out as I listened to patients each day of my clinical work as a physiotherapist. As a young and inexperienced intern at UNTH Enugu, I felt so helpless one morning when a middle-aged patient with a PhD in Psychology literally pleaded for my help. He was admitted with history of urethral stricture as a result of prostate enlargement. He had been taken to the theatre for surgery but before the anesthesia was administered; his body went into spasm due to fear. The fear of dying had choked his soul in a vicious grip that the surgeons decided promptly to wheel him back to the ward. Torn between the fear of death and the desire to live, he needed help and had no clue as to how to go about it.

“Please I need a drug against fear” he had pleaded. Knowing as a physiotherapist that I was the least qualified to offer professional advice about drugs, I was a bit discomfited. He had given me a brief lecture on the different types of fear, and had identified the fear he had as ‘Morbid Fear”. This compounded the problem for me, and moreover, no one had told me about any drugs suitable for treating fear, let alone the fear of death during my pharmacology classes in med school! An idea hit me as I spotted the bible beside his pillow. I flipped through it and showed him different verses that had fear as part of its motif. More importantly, I remembered a verse in Hebrews with these exact words; “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through his death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb 2:14-15).

I showed him many other verses in the bible where the antidote to fear was mentioned; i.e. FEAR NOT! And that about 365 of such verses can be located in the Bible such that he can take a dose for an entire year. In a sense, fear would inevitably grip us but no one should lose heart as the antidote exists. Like one spiritual mentor had taught me previously, I told the respected doctor of psychology to read, assimilate and mutter those verses over and again. A few days after, I went back to check on my patient and felt so gratified that he was in high spirits. He told me how amazed he was that the bible had a recipe for fear which no prescriptive drug could confront. The fear of death vanished he added and had consented to the surgery a second time and no tremor or spasms of fear held him back again. He promised me that he would share this discovery with his fellow colleagues when he is discharged to back to school; he was a lecturer!

I would overtime become enmeshed in the pain and sorrows of others in my clinical life. I once entered the room of a young patient who was weeping with her few months baby lying beside her. She had sustained fracture of a segment of her hip bone and was afraid she might not be able to ‘push out a baby’ again. I had to assure her that things would be fine with her, and a hand squeeze was like a tonic to her. The tears ceased and days after, her husband came to thank me, and that was how I became a family friend to the young couple till date. I have also felt the pain of patients who felt hopeless and despaired for their own lives. I have helplessly watched able-bodied men and women whose bodies emaciated and deteriorated after an accident had damaged their spinal cords with no hope of walking independently again. I have had the privilege of becoming a ‘welcome member’ of the family of patients that felt so grateful that I took out time to sit by their bedsides to listen to their tale of pain, fears and woes. They gave me the privilege of sharing in their joyous moments besides the painful experiences that brought them to the hospital.

But at some point in my career as a clinician, I felt I no longer could bear with the sufferings of humanity so I wanted out of the hospital. I longed to interact and work in an environment where the focus is not on diseases and ailments and where no suffering was obvious. And when the opportunity to work outside the hospital environment came, I grabbed it firmly and left to the chagrin of my numerous ‘patient-friends’ whom I was literally ‘running away’ from. I wanted to live in a world with some sanity. A pain-free world was what I longed for, but three years after working outside the walls of a hospital, I have stared awfully at the reality of pain in the world.

I have felt the deeper pain of the soul that had gnawed at the joy of many. I have seen and felt the pain of rejection, the cry of lonely hearts, and the despairing twitch of in a sorrowful heart. There has been no escape for me even when I try hard to live in my own cocoon of aloneness, far-removed from human suffering. But in all, I am happy that I have been involved more with humanity and in our brokenness and pain. As a teenager, I wanted to ‘help humanity in need’ but had dreamt of being an engineer rather than a doctor or physiotherapist. But a reality hit me with time as I was frustrated by my lack of affinity and connectedness with machines. Some people are gifted with the ears to pick up the rhythm of machines and inanimate equipment. But my heart seemed to have been wired to pick up an animated poetry recited by the experiences of humanity. For I reckon now that I am part of that humanity and have been tremendously blessed by others who had picked up the poetry of my own suffering heart.

There have been moments when I groaned and felt some depth of concealed pain that were physically impalpable but someone had picked up the vibes, and offered a listening ear and a compassionate heart that brought me back to wholeness. I recall similar moments in other’s lives when all I could offer was a listening heart, without knowing that was all they needed at those precious moments. Moments when the broken tear sac was all their eyes could offer, as an expression of the seethed emotions within their sheltered hearts!

There have been moments I wished not to have visitors or guests in my home, but try as hard as I could; I had only managed to have few days of aloneness without guests staying over for a night or two in my little apartment. Sometimes, the whole house is full of people, that creating a private space for me to lounge and explore my creativity had become an expensive and unaffordable luxury. But the blessings of being a part of the life of others have been one that can’t be quantified easily.

Humanity is increasingly becoming selfish to alarming degree. We are wary of being involved in the lives of others so we can be shielded from the pains, sufferings and sorrows as it’s more elating to identify with other’s joys and successes. Had Dr. Bill Lane, the life mentor of Michael Card ( for 25years not shared those deep lessons of life with his mentee, many of us wouldn’t have heard or known about this sacred psalmist and troubadour of the Lord. Bill had selflessly helped shape Mike’s life as a young man grappling with life’s realities and challenges, and now millions of Christians have been blessed by Mike’s songs and books. Had Bill not been part of the poetry of Mike’s life, we might not have had that sacred song, “El Shaddai” which Michael Card composed and blessed the world with besides hundred other songs.

Dr Bill said before his death that “Our age is a dialogue of the deaf” and often charged his mentee with these exact words; “You must develop a lifestyle of listening.and the best way to show someone that you love them is to listen to them.” Michael Card in his book, “The Walk” said that ‘soul -friendship” is the only way to experience genuine relationship as it expects so much from us than a superficial relationship demands. A soul-friend is one who first and foremost loves in a way that desires the best for the other person. This kind of love then demands that each one of us play a part in our friend’s journeys, encouraging them to grow into the best that Christ has for them. The demand on us may include loving confrontation on one end, ready forgiveness on the other, and vast amounts of patience in between.

But the fear of rejection and the sense of self-preservation that we all suffer from often stand between us and the development of ‘soul-friendships’ which has the ability to bring blessings to others, which rubs off on us too. We should take a cue from Jesus Christ who is the greatest example of soul friendship. He was always available, always listening, always ready to forgive, yet He feels the pain of rejection. Who knows how many beautiful poems we’ve failed to hear because of undue focus on ourselves? We might be glued to our laptops and other career-enhancing machines that generate inanimate and lifeless poetry, but nothing can compare to the poetry of life which we can only savor when we engage deeply and become deeply involved in the lives of others! Life is Poetry and Humanity generates its rhythm daily. In Pain. In Joy!

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2 comments October 24, 2008 - 5:06 am

NyarNam, thanks 4ur kind words. If I can have your personal email, I’d love to share my poems with you for sure. God bless!

NyarNam October 20, 2008 - 3:13 pm

Hear, hear! Great content, Mr. Obi. How fortunate are those who have you for a soul-friend. PS: I would like to read your poetry, if you can post it sometime.


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