ONCE UPON A TIME – Gabriel Okara

Posted: May 30, 2012 in Exceptional, Excerpts

This poem I was assigned to report about during my college Literature. And since then, I have always remembered Okara’s words, and the paradox in it. Thanks Ms. Banaria! Ü


Once upon a time, son,

they used to laugh with their hearts

and laugh with their eyes:

but now they only laugh with their teeth,

while their ice-block-cold eyes search behind my shadow.

There was a time indeed

they used to shake hands with their hearts:

but that’s gone, son.

Now they shake hands without hearts:

while their left hands search

my empty pockets.

‘Feel at home´! ‘Come again´:

they say, and when I come

again and feel

at home, once, twice,there will be no thrice-

for then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learned many things, son.

I have learned to wear many faces

like dresses – homeface,officeface, streetface, hostface,

cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles

like a fixed portrait smile.

And I have learned too

to laugh with only me teeth

and shake hands without my heart.

I have also learned to say,’Goodbye´,

when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:

to say ‘Glad to meet you´,

without being glad;

and to say ‘It’s been

nice talking to you, after being bored.

But believe me, son.

I want to be what I used to be

when I was like you. I want

to unlearn all these muting things.

Most of all, I want to relearn

how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror

shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!

So show me, son,

how to laugh; show me how

I used to laugh and smile

once upon a time when I was like you.


— If this isn’t a poem very timely,  then I don’t know what is. And yes, I am talking abot the current events happening around me… okay, about national issues.

NOT! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s