Title: Your Crib, My Qibla
Author: Saddiq Dzukogi
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press/Lincoln
Year of Publication: 2021
No. of Pages: 89
Reviewer: Ojo Olumide Emmanuel
In Greek Art, “The Ekpora” is a system of lamenting and mourning the dead. As part of this, vases and other objects are decorated with scenes portraying the deceased surrounding. The Athenians also have “Epitaphious logos”, which is a funeral oration, which is a formal speech delivered at the ceremonial occasion of a funeral. The purpose is to eulogize the dead and exhort the living. The Greeks believed that immortality lay in the continued remembrance of the dead by the living. This is the idea reflected in Saddiq Dzukogi’s latest poetry title.
Your Crib, My Qibla is a profoundly poignant book; graceful in language, classic in style and thoughtful in ethos. It has been shortlisted for Derek Walcott Prize and Nigeria Prize for Literature. It is also a finalist for Julie Sok Poetry Award. A good number of individual poems have also won prizes. The collection is conspicuous with a solipsistic recollection and interrogation of the idea of loss, grief and memory. The author noted this thus: these are poems born out of grief and the celebration of our beloved daughter Baha, who we lost twenty-one days after her first birthday. In writing these poems I feel like I am holding her in my hands. She is alive as grief, alive as memory, alive as song.” In acknowledging the various recognition the collection has garnered, the poet mused that: when I wrote this book, I just wanted my daughter to live on in whatever kind of life that a book could afford. I just wanted to seek silent places beyond the noise of this world. I just wanted language to express what seemed inexpressible, what words could not decipher…
In reading the collection, the reader becomes palpable to the feeling of the poet, the rumbling imageries in his heart, the elegiac that has become melodies in his soul and his renewed search for a pathway for healing. There is also a kind of lyricism in the way the poems flow, like a threnody obeying the loftiness and deepness of the human voice pitch.
The collection is segmented into two discourses of fifty-nine poems. The first discourse “Your Crib” has forty-four poems while “Your Qibla” which is an imagined dialogue between the Poet and Baha has fifteen poems. It is also notable that the narrator or poetic personae used the second person pronoun to distance himself from the grief burrowing in his heart in the collection. This is not of self-denial but an acuity to in-look and be able to empathize with himself appropriately.
In the first poem (pg. 5) “Song to a Birdwoman”, the poet draws the reader to a memory lane of the events that characterized the birth of Baha /her mother, labour blood still trickling down her legs passes her to him, cradled in the towel of her arms, the hospital waiting hall full of the baby’s face, a hand holding the shrunken reflection of her mother as of a nursling… he hungers he cry, her first-time voice, but she opens her eyes instead, eyes like she has taken them from her mother’s socket…/ this opening brings the reader to the core of the poet’s being, the intensity and an insistence on his memory to recreate and retell this scene.
Like a parallel, the poem “Internment” (pg. 6) mildly tells the reader what follows after a while /your mother’s breasts swell with milk. She cups each in her hands as she delicately squeezes the warm milk through puffed nipples into a polythene bag, paces into the yard, roots her knees to the earth, hands muddied as she digs the spot where she entombs the milk there in the place you used to play with your brother. She leans back, looks into an open sky like one who has found a way of sending the milk across to you./ the imagery of this poem is not only vivid but the poet’s strength of recollection is surreal. The reader can decipher that the child died as a toddler but the reader is also able to witness the agony of the mother; losing a child and having to contain the milk she left behind.
In the poem “Chibi” (pg. 41) which is a Hausa word for the placenta. The placenta is believed to be the other part of a child and must be buried with discretion. The poet conjured this memory thus: /tinged her face with the stem of a mango tree he planted close to where he buried her chibi… light shines in dark places, he wanted to see like a bat what was before him, a child long buried… wanted to hear her cry, like the time grandmother heated a piece out of a broken clay pot, pressed it on her navel for seven days until the string fell… he conjured more memories and bade her to ride each like a horse, until she arrives…/ we can see the restlessness of the personae all through this poem, in his quest to disbelief and call death a liar.
In “Shahada” (pg. 42), the poet mourns his daughter in a way that makes grief appear light as a feather /today Baha is not dead- her tears reveal a deep love for him. He prays his daughter’s hand turns the sponge that would wash his corpse – the rite of passage pressed into her forehead, a prayer mark from birth – in this dream state he’s dying…/ The resolve of this poem is to ignore the triumph of death and grief; to celebrate and recreate ‘presence’ and the beauty of once being alive even in the deep of grief.”
In the final poem “One Year After” (pg. 87), the poet in an open letter dispels the final heart rumbling to Baha on the page, hinging all his lamentation and memory trail on love even though he blames himself for not doing enough. He is comforted by the fact that the ultimate fate of any human alive is DEATH /today is a year since the earth opened his mouth to the size of your body and swallowed. Like a ghost, I am learning to walk without my body- regret, a rosary wrapped around my wrist leads me away from the universe’s favour. If death is truly everywhere on earth, where could I have hidden you from it? /
In conclusion, Ilya Kaminsky in his praise of this book noted that “it is a stunning, memorable book.” It is stunning because of its dexterity and elegance in the application of the human lexeme to express the anguish of the soul; which is deeply inexpressible in fine words most times. It is also memorable because the noblest part of memory is to preserve it for posterity and this, the poet has achieved in Your Crib, My Qibla.
Ojo Olumide Emmanuel is a Nigerian Poet and Book Editor. He is the Author of the Poetry Chapbook “Supplication For Years in Sands” (Polarsphere Books, 2021). His works have appeared and forthcoming at Feral, Quills, Poemify, Melbourne-Culture, TNR and elsewhere. He currently curates the monthly Wakasoprize for Poetry and Abubakar Gimba Prize for Short Fiction. He is a fellow of the SprinNG Writers Fellowship. Say hi to him on Twitter @OjoOlumideEmma2