The author wrote How To Wake a Butterfly during a lockdown, when he was forced to look at his life and retrace the many things that have nurtured his character. His starting point is the famous reflection by Zhuangzi that begins, ” Once upon a time I dreamt I was a butterfly ..”
‘.. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know if I was then a man dreaming I was butterfly or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.‘
Within a few pages I sensed something of an irony in that choice of quote, for it becomes clear that the poet has too rarely been conscious of happiness until recently. Even birth was traumatic.
‘ .. the baby (you) is out out of here .. its a boy/ its a problem/ its a screaming caterpillar … Will the baby grow wings/ he has known so much hurt already (How it Began). ‘
When he is about ten, mother leaves, leaving behind the boy and his brother with a hurt, silent father (‘We grew into hollow men, my brother and I’ ). Many years later he asks her why she went away (‘while I’m trying to hold her hand through the phone’).
‘I’ve found no comfort, son.
I left for you, because sometimes,
To save the hand, you cut off a finger’.
So young, he turns to comfort in prayers and religion but to no avail.
‘I was told, God listens to little boys’ prayers,
Yet I felt my heart sink and dry
On my pillow at night
Lke my parents’ marriage, In Jesus’ name, Amen.’
(On my Parents Divorce)
The poems move through Loic’s boyhood memories and he mentions terrible things – war, bombs, machetes. But he does not dwell on these. He reflects instead on the people who helped to form him: his parents, brothers, and in particular his grandmother. ‘Theres’s a father that never came close, A child that never left for school, a little boy crying in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. There’s an uncle telling him to man up, There’s a mother that never left a note ‘. Always he returns to the most important struggle of his life, as it seemed to me, to unlearn the silence that he had learned from his father.
‘My father taught me to be a wielder of silence’.
The sections on the poet’s early years and young manhood, Caterpillar and Cocoon, I found to be a challenging read, to be honest, with line after line sending me off on reflections of my own. However, in the last section, ‘Butterfly’, the poet emerges from the cocoon of heartache and doubts and is able to accept himself, He can allow himself not only to love but to be loved. And isn’t that what we all search for in the end?
So how do you wake a butterfly?
‘If you can, I say, – Without bruising its wings -With a hug’.
Loic Ekinga Kalonji is a Congolese poet, storyteller, and a screenwriting enthusiast. His work in poetry and fiction focuses on the human experience and memories.Loic has been featured in many online publications such as Type/Cast Magazine, Ja. Magazine, Poetry Potion, and The Kalahari Review. His experimental chapbook Twelve Things You Failed at As A Man Today was an honourable mention by JK Anowe for Praxis Magazine Online. His short story ‘Loop’ has been adapted into a short film. He is a finalist of Poetry Africa’s Slam Jam competition 2020. Loic currently resides in the south of Johannesburg where he reads, writes, and daydreams.
How to Wake a Butterly, by Loic Ekinga, is published by Ensorcellia, an imprint of Odyssey Books, in 2021
You can also find it at Bookshop Org, at BookDepository (free shipping), Waterstones, Amazon in Kindle and also in paperback, and Barnes and Noble, among others.
I encourage you to also look at, from Odyssey Books, When No One Is Watching by Linathi Makanda. See my review here.
Mark is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.