KR Reviews

The Ductility of Person and Time in Saddiq Dzukogi’s Your Crib, My Qibla

Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2021. 108 pages. $17.95.

Saddiq Dzukogi’s new collection Your Crib, My Qibla (University of Nebraska Press, 2021) is a book of poems occasioned by the death of the poet’s daughter Baha before her second birthday. Your Crib, My Qibla is not a collection that understands grief as a predictable emotional trajectory with which most are familiar in one way or another. Instead, Dzukogi liberates grief from that determinism, by treating it as an emotion that can only be understood in its idiosyncratic movement through the body.

The collection is broken into two parts. In the first part of the collection, called “Your Crib,” the poems describe experiences as they unfold from the perspective of the third person that nevertheless feels like the perspective of the speaker. “He” comes up as insistently in the first part of this collection as the pronoun “I” more typically does in lyric poems. The use of the third-person pronoun is rich in effects; it makes experience feel more manageable to the interlocutor (occasionally Baha) and perhaps to the speaker:

Today Baha is not dead; she is six years old,
forcing marshmallows into his mouth.
Says I’m grown enough to feed you, Abba,
with the future, that’s what she calls him,
just like her brother. He forces
depraved cumin flowers back
into their seeds. The delight is that he has
pulled his shadows back into his skin
to salve his wounds, and all the times
he sat crying are erased—able to sidestep
the void just as he wished. She is at his feet
playing with his toes, as though they are
an extension of her toys—

The opening phrase, “Today, Baha is not dead; she is six years old,” uses the third person but could be addressed to Baha herself, as if to soften the reminder of her death. When a parent addresses himself in the third-person, he also makes the experience more manageable to his child, as in “Daddy is tired now.” The “he” serves as a container for experience, as the mouth serves as a container for marshmallows and the seeds serve as a container for the “depraved cumin flowers.” Any experience that comes out of the “he” can then be placed back in like the “shadows back into his skin.” In other words, by attaching his experiences to the third-person pronoun, the speaker makes them more like Baha’s toys with which  she can choose whether or not to engage.

In other poems, the “he” serves to emphasize a sense of alienation both from one’s own emotions and from the self that acts within a larger social world:

. . . Stuffs her napkin into his back
pocket. He can’t sit when his grandmother
offers him a chair. He arrived late to the interment.
Washed down to his toes with the news. He misses
his child like she has been dead
for a thousand years. The feeling ripples her face
against his mind, and his mind feels like a mind
of darkness. He walks through a bridge
beyond himself. . . .

The “he” narrates the process of the mind coming to “[feel] like a mind” (presupposed in lyric poems that use the “I”). The line break in “Stuffs her napkin into his back / pocket,” suggests that the “he” possesses a sensorial experience not yet assimilated to the conceptual understanding that generates a self within a larger social context. The “he” has the experience of stuffing the napkin into his back rather than into part of his clothing. The line break after “grandmother” similarly expresses how the speaker’s inability to sit is bound up with his consciousness of his grandmother as a person intimately related to him, before he can process that she has offered him a chair.

“Burial Sheet” and other poems are also striking for the way their perspective shuttles between past and present tense. “Chibi,” a later poem in this section, enacts a particularly dexterous movement between the present and past tense:

When his mother said through memories,
he can have his daughter back. He conjured more memories
and bade her ride each like a horse,
until she arrives. Crickets sang on top of their voices,
sang and sang, until theirs was a voice,
inside his veins. Memory is a shell where time is ductile,
where it draws him in, until the present and past
became tactile in his body.

In both the shift from “said” to “can,” and “bade” to “arrives,” the past tense transitions to present tense. But time becomes ductile when the shift in verb tense reverses direction, from present to past: “Memory is a shell where time is ductile, / where it draws him in, until the present and past / became tactile in his body.” The assonance between “past” and “tactile” indicates the importance of the ability to touch and perhaps mold the past.

Then, that ability to access one’s own past experience paves the way for the more radical ability to access the words of the dead in the second part, “My Qibla: —A Dialogue.” The first poem “She Begins to Speak” is from the perspective of Baha, while other poems feature the much-anticipated first person:

He asks if I miss you playing muddy-puddle.
His question compressed like a riddle;
where is my sister? On a chopping board
the onion
isn’t enough room. My burning body spills
out onto the pan. I explain
my silence like a hummingbird’s throat.

Here, the “he” is the speaker’s son. The “I” remains, gratifyingly, as centered in the body as the “he,” even as emotion simmers and spills out.

In an interview about Your Crib, My Qibla in Prism, Dzukogi claims, “Poetry has always been a tool for me to make sense of my body and the various emotions that it experiences and endures. I fall back to poetry each time there is something about the world or the self I do not understand. Not that it always arms me with understanding, but at least it starts the journey.” I have not encountered a poet more attuned to the movement of emotion through the body or whose poems move so surprisingly. This collection is especially suited to a reader who finds herself too overwhelmed or detached to be an “I” or choose a direction. Your Crib, My Qibla is perfect for someone who needs to be held in the body until the “mind feels like a mind.”