“Good Citizen” is a poem that explores the theme of death and the hypocrisy of society in the treatment of the deceased. The poem’s title suggests that it is about someone who has lived a good life and is now being honored by their community. However, as the poem progresses, it becomes clear that the title is ironic, and the poem is actually a critique of society’s treatment of the dead.
The poem is structured into stanzas of varying lengths, and each stanza focuses on a different group of people who have come to pay their respects to the deceased. The first stanza introduces the mourners and describes how they “sing praises that blow away immediately with ashes.” This line suggests that the praise the deceased is receiving is empty and fleeting and will soon be forgotten.
The second stanza introduces the neighbor who “filed complaints against my kids, dogs, and chickens.” This line implies that the neighbor had a negative relationship with the deceased and only attends the funeral to save face. The third stanza describes how even relatives who had not been in touch with the deceased suddenly remember their mortality and attend the funeral. This line highlights the idea that people often only remember the dead when it is convenient for them.
The fourth stanza introduces the boss who exploited the deceased’s work and kept them “nailed to the same wrung.” This line suggests that the boss took advantage of the deceased and did not allow them to advance in their career. The fifth stanza describes the old boys who attend the funeral to tell stories and recite “juicy tales” over beer and biltong. This line implies that the old boys are only interested in using the funeral as an excuse to socialize and gossip.
The sixth stanza introduces the politician who sees the funeral as an opportunity for slogans and votes. This line implies that the politician is only interested in exploiting the deceased’s memory for political gain. The seventh and final stanza describes the priest who is “triumphant” to soil the shiny wood with the first handful of dust. This line suggests that the priest is only interested in performing his duties and is not truly invested in the deceased’s memory.
The poem’s use of language is striking and evocative. The phrases “sing praises that blow away immediately with ashes” and “nail to the same wrung” create vivid images of the fleeting nature of life and the entrapment of the deceased. The use of the Shona phrase “Wafa wakanaka” at the end of the poem adds cultural specificity and emphasizes the idea that the poem is grounded in a specific time and place.
In conclusion, “Good Citizen” is a powerful poem that critiques society’s treatment of the deceased. The poem uses striking language and vivid imagery to highlight the hypocrisy of mourners who attend the funeral to save face, exploit the deceased for their own gain, or socialize and gossip. The poem suggests that society values the dead more than the living because they no longer have the ability to disrupt or irritate others.