I felt this poem beneath my skin all day long. It’s not a difficult poem to understand; after all, Abani claims his world as “ordinary” four times in describing an everyday domestic scene: preparing a meal in the kitchen. Yes, we can relate to that. And his use of sensory details to express emotion transfers his experience into our own bodies: “The knife nicks…. Blood sprouting from a finger… scrape pulpy red flesh into the heat…” They’re evocative details, yet disturbing. And we feel them.
What exactly is Abani thinking about here? While the poet does not claim he wants to harm his former love, images of violence flash before our eyes, images that are unsettling. Following a bloody finger, “red flesh” hardly brings to mind tomatoes. No. It’s the human body torn apart in a bloody mess that we see, or possibly the human heart at its most basic, extricated from higher emotional expressions of love, compassion, goodness. In fact, what’s being contemplated here is injury. Although Abani does not speak of his heartbreak directly, we reside within his perceptions, and his rage and pain keep us vigilant, tense, aching.
Amazingly enough, I enjoyed the ride.
Abani is a master at contradiction. An ordinary day, interspersed with thoughts of violence, builds in steady tension, and then, unexpectedly, sighs into prayer. Solace arrives through confession, the poet’s redemption, resulting (hopefully) in our response: Yes. I have felt that way too. And with those words, we are liberated. Free, yet connected to the writer, in a communion that every reader knows. The poem, in describing an ordinary heartbreak, creates an ache within our own chests yet at the same time also breathes blessing.
*See previous post to read poem
Chris Abani's website