Vita, Babel, Cauliflower
(Poems by Sarah B. Kamsin)
Vita, Babel, Cauliflower is a collection of poems by Sarah Kamsin, a daughter of South Sudanese immigrants to the USA. The poems present experiences, memories, reflections, prescriptions, admonitions, fantasies, and dreams. It is neither possible nor wise to make generalizations about them, for each is unique, arising from an adventurous imagination.
Some poems reflect on the American experience, including the 2020 civil unrest in Minneapolis, but some hark back to Africa. In the latter category belongs “The Blue,” with these opening lines:
She told me once that she’d seen an old picture of her father
in bell bottoms with hems torn,
against mango trees, yellow dust of Africa beneath his feet.
“Mama Picked Black Eyed Peas Leaves” alludes to Africa in the way it begins:
Mama picked black eyed pea leaves just like the ancestors did
to make stew mixed with all the old ways; these are the best of days.
The theme of the mother comes up again in “From the Remnants of War,” a poem that appears to refer to the wars that have ravaged Sudan for decades. With powerful imagery, it pays tribute to the inner strength and resourcefulness of the mother:
From the remnants of war you made a home for your children.
Sticks and stones that should have broken your bones instead
became our homestead…
In some of the poems, there are touching reflections or fleeting comments on the meaning and dilemmas of life. “Self is Myth” is a good example of this, meditating on an individual’s identity, existence, and destiny. I found its opening line intriguing:
Self is myth. Memory, sentiment.
Later in the poem came these haunting statements:
Sojourner, traverse. Only if lucky, not if cursed, will you die in the place of your birth…
The theme of life as mysterious and intriguing appears as well in “Myriad Dreams” which starts this way:
As I lay in the hay on colorful tapestries,
I tried to conceive of the magnitude of life, inherent to this place.
If to be alive is the meaning of life I hold the hope that
reincarnation is reality, so then my soul may be reborn as a
Notions of the absurd occur frequently in these poems, sometimes hinted at and sometimes laid bare, as in “Tightrope Ambition.” This poem contemplates the futility of certain forms of human action, a predicament stated also by the woman in the poem titled “The Blue:”
We’re like two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl
Along the same lines, a section in “Zero Dark Thirty” reads:
The Farm Keepers gone, I can finally admit it. I’m waiting for a
rain that won’t come.
Some poems project hope but others express contrary sentiments, such as “The Purple of You,” which starts on a sad note:
Losing you hit me slow like salt in an aged wound, like May
Reading Vita, Babel, Cauliflower is like accompanying the poet on her journey and being a witness, if not an eavesdropper. There are poems addressed to some third party, and we readers are just eavesdroppers. As I have said, these poems spring from an adventurous imagination. Reading them in succession, I saw the images embedded in them fluttering on the pages like butterflies. These poems are by no means the work of a novice. I sensed this when I saw the epigraph, lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday.” A remarkable accomplishment as it is, this collection bears the promise of Sarah Kamsin’s bright future as a poet.
Vita, Babel, Cauliflower is published by Kamsin LLC, Minneapolis, 2020. www.sarahbkamsin.com