Wednesday, January 31, 2007



When I saw your father then. Before you birthed.
I saw a boulder, broad chest, wavering
Awkward as his skin, stretched and cracked
Losing his old self.

I saw his words become weighed.
His life mission sharpening like a pencil.
I saw him testing father. He would roll it
Around like hot liquid and squint under its burn.

As you stretched in your mothers tummy,
So he stretched. He shed parts to prepare.
I saw a man naked and unsure, rolling daddy
Around his tongue, preparing like the raw trumpet
Stretching abstract notes creating jazz.
I saw you make him a man.

Malika Booker
Malika Booker was in Malaysia last year both to perform and to run workshops, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her for StarMag, which is where this poem appeared.

This is a very strong and moving poem about fatherhood, addressed by the mother to her child.

The main players in the act of childbirth are, of course, mother and child. But here in a sense the father too is being given birth to. It’s a highly effective shift of focus, especially as fathers often feel sidelined during the act of birth.

Look at how the new father’s initial awkwardness and hesitancy is highlighted, not just by the words, but also by the punctuation. The poem is choppy at first, the full stops occurring not at the end of grammatical sentences but between clauses in the first line. And how, in comparison, the long run-on sentence in the third stanza (with no commas in places where we would normally expect them) shows his growing confidence, his joy.

The imagery of the poem is extremely effective. The image of the skin stretching and cracking reminds the reader of a snake, shedding its skin, just as the man is sloughing off his old skin to find a new self within. I like too the way the image of the word ”father” being like hot liquid, a new taste sensation on the tongue, something that must be tested before it can be assimilated.

The father is described very effectively in the same terms as the baby – stretching, shedding parts (as the umbilical cord is shed, I suppose), naked. The reference to jazz improvisation is apt for there is no manual for fatherhood, and each man must come to it in their own way.
The poem reminded me of an earlier one I posted about learning the true meaning of becoming a father: The Almond Tree by John Stallworthy.

Give Malika’s poem to a new father near you!

(Written by bibliobibuli who is at the moment unable to move her blog over to Blogger 2).

Labels: , ,


Blogger Leon Wing said...

I am impressed by the way Malika invokes pairings, as parallelism, to make her point: "stretched" in stanza 1 with "Stretching" in last stanza; repeating "father" with synonym "daddy"; "roll it ('daddy' or 'father') with "rolling daddy"; "Losing his old self" with "I saw you make him a man."; and the poet seeing the baby's father in stanza 1, then seeing him again trying out 'father' in 2nd stanza, with seeing the baby in last stanza.

Then, there is the parallel syntactic structure of first two lines of clause-main clause in stanza 1 and 3, with the melding the stanza 3 clauses to spell out the father's final confidence. His hesistancy, as pointed out, shows up so explicitly using the full-stops to break up the sentence in clauses.

All of this makes the poem so balanced,so nearly perfect.

3:14 PM, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

...I remember the line 'fathered by my son' from Almond Tree and also googling to see the pink and white almond flowers. I think if you've never seen an almond flower, you'd miss the final, unsaid, image.

Whereas in Malika's piece, the poetic moment is evoked gradually and unleashed in the poem's final lines.

Running after 'rolling daddy' for a pause at 'around his tongue'... and then the two long run-on lines, stopping hard and then the final line.

Malika has such a great sense of flow... I'm glad to have seen her when she came to KL.

And this poem demands after it's performance your participation:

Try rolling daddy around your tongue and that is how Malika distills that moment ... at least, for me, what I imagine being a new father must feel.

This is what completes it, and
makes it perfect :)

aside: 'naluri lelaki' gets my tongue in a twist!

8:05 PM, January 31, 2007  
Blogger dreameridiot said...

First time I read it I found it jarring, but come to think about it, it fits well, as bibiobibuli suggested, with the uncertainty and anxiety felt by the father, to see the flesh of his own flesh (and his wife's).

Thanks bibiobuli, I love your explication on the jazz bit.

Interestingly, this poem casts manhood and masculinity in a different light, at least from the projected machismo we are used to. Yet again, one might think about the present (perhaps not) shift in the images of masculinity, with the Sensitive-New-Age-Guy thing, and metrosexual man aka Beckham, sensitive father and all.

PS. Machinist, are you doing some translation or writing a sajak? Haha. naluri Lelaki... it thymes too. BTW, isn't naluri something instinctual.... at least, that is my sense of the word.

1:44 AM, February 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a shot in the dark, but i am looking for a poem (i think by cecil rajendra, but i'm not positive)... it's a poem about political prisoners, and compares the many positions of the kama sutra with the many more tortures that the human mind has invented. if anyone out there knows of it, please please let me know: kafirah at yahoo dot com

1:50 AM, March 15, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home