Listen to the Poem
I kneel at the Calvary, the sun—pelting on my skin like a rainstorm of fragmented pieces of glass, I drag my self towards a crucifix where phonology says: [a boy] —> [a broken boy] / [grief]—[grief] I think myself a guitar’s string blessing the threnodies of the aches in this poem, who will crush pomegranates into juice for me? Who will beat the bush of this boy into a floral garden of roses? Who will pour joy like a fricative sound into the living of this boy? I seek the rule to the deletion of grieving, where: [grief] —> [deleted] / [bliss]—[bliss] Where I will sleep through the night without the body of a knife lurking in my dreams. Where I will sleep through the night without drowning in the pool of my own fears. Where I will sleep through the night & not wake up as a butterfly’s wing. But insertion says: [insert]—> [grief] / [bliss]—[bliss] of a boy. Recently, I touch things & they flower out a monochrome of death & my father—how he squeezed life out of him like an orange. Dear poet, when will you stop performing an autopsy with poems on all the broken things you know,
especiallyincluding yourself? This poem, a psych ward, this poem, a psych nurse which grew from your psyche. Like a wood frog, I’m still holding my pee through hours, through the night where pain is a bagpiper blowing its pipe to me in these times of war.
About the Poem
Abdulkareem explores identity in this poem from a phonologic perspective. Phonology speaks at the “crucifix” of its narrative tension. Most notable is the nuance in lines like “ [a boy] —> [a broken boy] / [grief]—[grief]”, and “[grief] —> [deleted] / [bliss]—[bliss]”, clear demonstrations of poetic and linguistic brilliance. Abdulkareem offers no didactic exposition to the poem’s linguistic range but intrinsically embodies Saussure’s semiotic and linguistic propositions. Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the most influential linguists of the twentieth century, is known for his distinction between language (langue) and the activity of speaking (parole). According to Saussure, language is made up of signs, which have two components: a signifier and a signified. The signifier is the material or tangible while the signified is the mental picture associated with it.
Abdulkareem’s impressive writing makes no mention of linguistic theories but meshes the liminal rails between the signifier and the signified in memetic wonder. There is an innate sense of self and yet a gift of distance, it is so prolific that it makes the poem also about poetry, positing the poet as a percipient witness. Abdulkareem asks, “Dear poet, when will you stop performing an autopsy?”
Beyond self-aware threnodies, the poem asks for a “fricative sound” of joy and its last stanza asserts that it is a psych ward. Given its linguistic innuendos, such psychoanalytic imagery is even more compelling. Abdulkareem’s writing is emotive and deliberate, full of feeling, thrumming from an enthralling psyche.
First published by Poetry, the oldest and eminent literary journal devoted to poetry in the English language, the poem is phenomenal via its phonologic aesthetics. In April 2022, Poetry magazine sought both established and emerging poets for a special Exophony issue, celebrating poets with mother tongues other than English. Abdulkareem, one of the most impressive emerging African poets featured in that issue, is clearly aware of his linguistic and syntactical dexterity. “I think myself a guitar’s string, ” he writes, evoking musical and semiotic wonder yet again.
- Analysis by Ifeoluwa O. Olatona
I had the inspiration for the poem during a phonemic analysis class on how a sound can be altered while it is pronounced in generalization. In this same vein, I thought about how grief can remake us, like sounds undergoing transformations or alterations after being influenced by other sounds in their environment as it happens in generative phonology. I used the concept of phonological rule writing to describe the grief pulling me down, and the redemption that I seek. In linguistics, phonemic analysis is the process of investigating the sound system of a spoken language to note its phonemes and the allophonic distribution.
In this poem, I’m noting the sounds, rhythms and shapes of my paternal grief by experimenting with the consistency of the solemn grievances that I hoard at all times.
Abdulkareem Abdulkareem (he/him), Frontier III, is a Nigerian writer and linguist. He holds a B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria. He is a recipient of the Hill Top Creative Writing Award for Excellence, 2023. In 2022, He won the University of Ilorin S.U. Writers Competition (Poetry Category) and was shortlisted for the Vallum Poetry Award. His works appear and are forthcoming on POETRY Magazine, Nat Brut, SAND Journal, Poetry Wales, Transition Magazine, LOLWE, Harbor Review, Qwerty Magazine, Claw and Blossom, Brittle Paper, Rough Cut Press, Off Topic Publishing, Orion’s Belt & elsewhere. He is currently a poetry reader for Agbowó Magazine and Frontier Poetry.
Poetry Magazine, April 2022, The Poetry Foundation.