No Home In This Land. Rasaq Malik. Akashic Books. New Generation African Poets - Taro. Brooklyn, New York. 2018.
Luckily for us there is some hope to be found in Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land because there is some sad rain in Malik's world. Today's book of poetry is almost embarrassed to address some of the issues facing Malik as a norm, they are so foreign to us here in Canada. Foreign in anything except the news. Our poets worry about publication and literary festivals. Rasaq Malik's generation of Nigerians worry about war, baby soldiers, the weaponized madness of the dispossessed.
No Home In This Land starts with one breath-taking body punch, ala Sir Joe Frazier, and then before you can catch your breath, before you can inhale needed oxygen, Malik digs down from his knees and cannon shots another into your ribs, even the sturdiest reader buckles at the knees. Malik's Nigeria is unforgiving and bleak.
At Dalori Camp
After Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's
Losing and Finding Love in the Time of Boko Haram
The women stretch their legs as their malnourished infants
suck disease-infected breasts, as another day begins with
fear lurking in their eyes, as they remember their relatives
at home, their families waiting at the doorsteps every night,
their beloveds searching for them every day, their dreams
dismantled by war, their hope the frail light in the lantern
they carry every night to search for the bodies of the dead.
The women weep as they see their children hold
the dusty photographs of their fathers, as they remember
the soldiers raping them every night, the soldiers
littering their bodies with scars nothing can erase.
They remember the corpses paving the streets,
bodies wrapped and disposed like waste
beside desolate houses. The women wake up
every day to see rooms filled with new refugees
trucks filled with few relief materials for the displaced.
The women watch their children lie on the mats,
as another night begins with people searching
for the meaning of home in the sadness of a woman washing
the blood-soaked dress of her daughter, in the silence
of a man returning home to meet the dismembered
bodies of his wife and children, in the sorrow of a widow
living with solitude. The women search for the meaning
of home whenever they wake up to see bullet holes on the walls,
whenever the pieces of their beloveds fill the streets,
whenever they receive letters from missing loved ones,
notes from relatives in prison, flowers from dying parents to their children.
Rasaq Malik does find some tenderness, some reasons for hope even in the face of almost systemic chaos. Malik does not explain the unexplainable but he does report it with wounded candor.
What poet wouldn't blanch at the spectacle of his country falling apart around them? Malik chooses to enter the fray in order to better report the truth of it. Federico Garcia Lorca did the same thing in Spain but didn't make it through. We get first hand reportage in poems, some disguised as dispatches and other disguised as prayers. But Malik abides, he stays on the ground and bears witness.
At Today's book of poetry the important thing is the poem and Rasaq Malik doesn't let us down.
For life after the bombings, for the love that cradles us in spite of the war
that wrecks our land, for joy in the cries of infants in their mother's arms.
Grateful for little things, for my son's dream of building the world,
for people waking up every day to marvel at the birds that fill the sky.
Grateful for friends that visit us, relatives that send letters to us,
people that open their doors for us when war looms in the sky.
Grateful for the rivers that become a confluence, fields that house our
children when they gather to explore childhood moments.
Grateful for answered questions, for the walls that bear the frames
of our pictures, for the windows that usher in air.
Grateful for things that shape us into better things, things that lift our hands
when we fill the night with cries, things that unchain our passion for bliss.
Grateful for husbands that return home safely to meet their wives and children
waiting for them at doorsteps, for mothers whose children remember.
Grateful for things that survive, for children whose lives become maps
for us to trace, for God's infinite mercy over us.
Grateful for the meals taken at normal hours, for shared compassion,
for songs that soothe our troubled hearts.
Grateful for the ones who kiss our brows and say, we will be fine,
for the ones who stretch their hands filled with gifts for us to take home,
for the ones who phone at late hours to ask if we are fine,
for the ones whose names mean the world is a haven.
Grateful for my mother's stable health, for my father's strong bones,
for the assurance of kindness when we need it.
Grateful for those who, in spite of their sad
hearts, offer us every bright thing in the world.
Our morning read followed the emotional ups and down of Rasaq Malik's poetic landscape. And, once again proved that all poems improve from reading out loud to an audience. Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land loves being read aloud.
Today's book of poetry read Rasaq Malik's muscular and disturbing No Home In This Land several times in our desire to get inside the poems. At least two of the those reads took place in the comfort of our big bed, the beautiful K beside us, reading her latest and resting one of her tiny feet against my leg. Today's book of poetry read Malik in the safety of our bed, in our safe neighbourhood, in our safe city, in our safe country. Today's book of poetry doesn't feel guilty but the same time we don't feel right about our safe lives knowing full well that in many parts of the world that assumption can't be made. In some parts of the world feeling safe is the last thing you are allowed to do.
Rasaq Malik challenged himself and then us when he decided to see Boko Haram from the inside. He bravely bares witness for the many who cannot. No Home In This Land is knock-out poetry. A big, big price was paid for each of these poems.
In This Village Where Every Dawn
Begins With A Funeral
In this village, where a child draws the image
of his dead mother on a cardboard,
where a man covers the pieces of his wife's body
with leaves, where flowers replace bodies
buried in exile, where the muezzin's voice recedes
as gunshots assemble people at the scene, where the dead
long for a mass funeral in order to escape the agony
of being devoured by crows, where a woman translates her grief
by sitting on the tomb of her child, they cook dinner with
bloodstained water. The earth widens beneath feet,
as people trace the footprints of lost beloved
with lanterns and return to their huts to meet the mangled
bodies of their children. Here, broken women seek healing,
and men are burdened with the role of burying
their dead. Here, my grandmother's graveyard decked
with a vase of writhed wreaths, my uncle's farmland is razed
to dust, and my family's house is turned into a hollow during war.
In this village there are unmarked graves, tombstones bearing
the names of ambushed soldiers, blood-draped walls of old houses,
remnants of burnt homesteads, ruins of bombed stores, fallen branches
and dry twigs. The hills house refugees, camps built in the desert,
lands converted to cemeteries. The girls here live with the scars of rape,
the boys are weaned by war, elders stagger as they walk
to where a country becomes a shadow, a memorial ground.
The portraits of the dead are taped to the walls,
with the broken slates of children who will never return home
to enjoy childhood years, to meet the streets glowing
with streetlights, to listen to the radio once again, to bathe in the river,
to climb mango trees, to adorn their necks with catapults,
to dance in the rain and listen to stories at dusk.
Akashic Books' New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set - (Tano) is an annual project that brings much excitement to our offices upon arrival. Today's book of poetry suspects it is because some of the very best, most exciting, vibrant poetry we've experienced is contained in these collections. There is always a bit of a polite "dust-up" over who gets what when - but it does all get shared and adored.
As taken as Today's book of poetry has been with various other books from these excellent collections, Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land raises the bar just that much higher. Malik pulls no punches, his love is witness honest and abides his searching for truth. These poems burn, bright.
ABOUT THE POET
Rasaq Malik is a graduate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including Michigan Quarterly Review, Poet Love, Spillway, Rattle, Juked, Connotation Press, HEArt Online, Grey Sparrow, Jalada, and elsewhere. He is a two-time nominee for Best of the Net. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and was shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2017.