Bulawayo-based artist Philani Nyoni will always beyond a reasonable doubt harbor the memory of a visit he made a week ago on Tuesday to Warren Hills Cemetery where the late mysterious scholarly legend Dambudzo Marechera rests in unceasing peace. There is irrefutably a Marecheranism among the youthful artists and authors in Zimbabwe, an administration of “the Marechera-incarnates” who, as they languish the yearning over their saint, have transformed him into a “demi-god”.
Also, Nyoni is among them. His work and individual have had the tag “the following Marechera” push onto them from different faultfinders and admirers. Along these lines when he made a campaign to Marechera’s grave at Warren Hills graveyard, Harare, with his companion Dorcas Gwata, it resembled a long-term blazing longing getting satisfied.
Nyoni described his visit as “a drink with Marechera”, and the very meditative moment he spent at the grave evoked a poem he titled “drinking with a dead man”.
How the award-winning poet came to think of paying such a tribute to Marechera is in itself another star of an unusual drama in which two friends sneak from a party to visit their best friend’s grave a short distance away.
Nyoni said he met Gwata two years ago after she had been referred to him as the “right person to know in Bulawayo”. A mental health therapist and arts lover, Gwata obviously was hunting for one who would echo a Marechera kind of worship of mental freedom: “my name is not money but mind” he once wrote. Later, as Nyoni said, Gwata and himself would collaborate on matters to do with “art and mental health”.
Last week the two friends met at a lunch hosted by the British Embassy in Harare. The poet did his work, that is, read his poems to the guests, yet as it were, Marechera was calling.
Nyoni and Gwata, after lunch, got swayed away from the party to a place of their “living dead” friend. And once there, the poet-to-poet dialogue started.
“I could only attempt to write. I invented a new form sitting there; yearning convention but spurred to deviance of it by the subject; conceived some hybrid of the terza rima and the sonnet in Shakespearean form, at tribute from a grave, comfortable as a seat, overlooking his final address: 1237 Warren Hills,” said Nyoni.
The poem “Drinking with a Dead Man” which he composed at the grave resonate with an emotional protest of celebrating and missing a legendary writer who’s now “. . . Gone, gone to where lightning can’t shake its fist/And beg you desist. Gone, like light through the galaxy.”
The world record breaking sonneteer Nyoni also said, “Visiting him was a surreal experience. His grave is simple, it reads: ‘Writer — Dambudzo Marechera. . . ‘ And follows up with his years. No eulogy; no fanciness, just granite hewn as indelibly as the name writ upon it. That is a legacy. He is not among the provincial heroes or the national who lie not too far from him; he might walk there some times to harangue them with the criminal vigour he displayed in ‘Mind-blast’, but he does not sleep among them and that is very telling. A humble man who played the lot he was dealt to the miry end, resolute; in the words of Tennyson, ‘Not to yield’.”
Marechera has been dead for almost 30 years and yet the honours still come perennially upon him. Nyoni thinks that only those who appreciate him will keep his legacy alive.
“It is hard to pinpoint one thing, in a way it gets one thinking about one’s own legacy. Truthfully, none but us, who appreciate him, can do anything about it,” Nyoni said.