Posts Tagged ‘Somalia’

Mogadishu

Mogadishu

When I posted my first poem of this same title on Mogadishu more than a year and a half ago, I wrote in the introduction that I was writing three poems of the same title and had finished two. Today, while researching Ethiopian poets, I was carried into that dreaminess that East African poetry persuades. So I went back to Mogadishu, my capital of East African wanderlust.

This is a poem of some longing for a never-visited place. Though Mogadishu be far, one day we shall “pursue her across museums of the brokenhearted” and when we arrive, “show her our cuffs where her love burns a golden brown into our wrists”. Read that first poem and then read this.

I Think About You, Mogadishu
I want to be a part of you
To extend my hands where yours end
Sit at fireplaces with you,
And stare. Stare as we whisper stories of nothing.
I want to be that part of you.

If you would let me, I would hold you
Let you sob softly on my shoulder
Wipe your tears off my neck
If it will make anything easier
I just want to be with you.

I want to call you home
To belong to you. Be a part of you.
Run on your shore to stretched shore,
Show you off to the world.
This is my lover. This is you
This is Mogadishu.

But you say I cannot call you home
That you are no bed for me to stay
That you do not sleep when night has come
Your days are full of sudden flight
From yourself but also from me.
Why can’t I belong to you, Mogadishu?

I can drown in no ocean
But give me a saucer of your love
And I will drown.
Your love is red
too red for me
I love your love blue
Red with memories you want to forget.
Why can’t your love be blue?

I ask little, I expect less
I can sleep on the floor, I have nothing
Huddle in the corner
For the joy that in the morning,
You will be here.
Why can’t you love me like I love?

We have no need to think of food,
Our love is more than we can eat
Your name, our dish, my name dessert
We call our sweet names and we are full
Sugar pumpkin banana
Why can’t I belong to you?

We can forget all others who have been.
The strangeness of past loves haunts you
Shot, migrated, arrested, left you
And your tears from one heart many times broken
Makes a thousandth acquaintance with your face.

But let me love you and we will stay here.
If I can wake in the glint of every morning sun,
Careless of the night that may have brought death,
Careless of flight, careless of the gun
And just look upon your beauty
As you lie beside me, my lover and my home
Let the world burn around us
The only fire for which I care
Is the one that burns within us
Burns within me for you,
If only it would burn for me in you.
I think about you, Mogadishu.

Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire

If you have been following new, exciting African poets, you have surely heard of Warsan Shire. My introduction to her poetry came in 2013 when she became the inaugural winner of the Brunel University African poetry prize. I had applied to that prize so I followed it keenly. Also, the fact that it was an African poetry prize initiated by Bernadine Evaristo “to draw attention” to poetry from Africa, gave me more than a little joy. Warsan has moved on in leaps and bounds since winning that award.

Warsan Shire was born in Somalia in 1988. She became popular in 2011 when her poem “For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ to Love” (video with voiceover by Warsan) went viral. She moved to London with her family when she was still young and has traveled extensively for her poetry.

Warsan’s poetry is very simple yet very deep. Many of them, if not all, portray a woman who is fundamentally feminist. I have tried on countless occasions to review a poem of hers but much of her poetry’s depth makes it difficult to do full justice. She is the first poet I will review, whose poetry came to me as so beautifully difficult and this work is one of the easier ways to introduce her to anyone who has not read her work. It has taken a couple of days to decide on which of her works I can comfortably review. Not to be taken wrong, her poetry is very simple to read on the face but when you try to review, to interpret or to translate, you find that you are dealing with layers, layers and layers of meaning and thought. She became the first young poet-laureate of the city of London in 2013. In my previous post about the depth of Somali poetry, I have reviewed her in the same lights as Hadraawi, Gaarriye and K’naan; the first two, classical, the latter two contemporary poets in a glittering Somali poetry culture. Read here my review of The Kitchen published in 2011 by Flipped Eye in her chapbook with the title Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth.

The Kitchen

REVIEW

The title and setting of this poem by Warsan are a sort of deflection from a deeper story that is woven throughout the poem. How many great poems have been written about kitchens and cook books? I have seen few. But as the poem opens, your mind is cast unto delicacies of the palate, what with ‘Half a papaya and a palmful of sesame oil’ (line 1). In the second line, the poet sharply turns to address a woman whose ‘husband’s mind has been elsewhere’.

The third line, like a forgetfulness of the second and a reminder of the first, tells of ‘Honeyed dates, goat’s milk’, before it continues to address our woman in line 4 about her wanting to ‘quiet the bloating of salt’.
Our addressed woman’s husband has come to or has always been in the kitchen because in line 6, he kisses the back of her neck at the stove and in line 8, she offers him the hollow of her throat. There is some romance going in the kitchen interspersed with the preparation of what sounds like a coming romantic dinner with coconut and ghee butter (line 5) and cayenne and roasted pine nuts (line 7).

In line 10, Warsan gives us a hint of our woman’s suspicions; she has decided that her husband is seeing another woman but she doesn’t ‘ask him her name’. She lets him lift her by the waist (line 12) and lay her down on the kitchen counter (line 14). The melody of food continues interwoven with this woman’s story like a story sandwich with a hint of saffron and rosemary (line 9), vine leaves and olives (line 11), cinnamon and tamarind (line 13).

The poem winds down and the woman is told her husband is hungry (line 16). He had forgotten the way she tastes (line 18) but upon all his infidelity and wanderings, his other mistress could not and ‘cannot make him eat, like you’ (line 20) his wife. There’s some intertwining in these last lines that makes the poem endlessly complete. The man is in the kitchen because he is hungry. In the kitchen, he does not taste the woman’s food but seeks out pleasures of her body. He has forgotten how the woman tastes, not her food. The other woman could not cook him a better intimacy than his wife does and that is why he is back to his wife, whose ‘food’ is better. The fact that this poem takes place in a kitchen is just a subtle cover for something deeper that brewed underneath – underneath every line of this poem that reads food, every line staggered away from the edge of the page like an afterthought.

Do one thing for me before you’re through reading this review. Go back up and read every even-numbered line of this poem only. Forget the first lines and read the second line of each couplet. That is the story Warsan has been trying to tell us. Beautiful poem, isn’t it?

Edit: This post is quoted here on The Guardian UK.