This House, Rehema Njambi
The Emma Press, 2021 £6.50
Garnished with sin
The blurb for This House mentions that the poet
unpacks identity, faith, womanhood — and above all — agency, in poems partly inspired by conversations with the Black, mostly African, women around her.
To me, this suggested a somewhat self-conscious packaging of cultural virtue, but actually my experience of the work didn’t feel packaged. I found the poems elusive, uncomfortable, and humble.
On the subject of quotidian tradition in religion, Njambi writes interestingly. In ‘Sundays are for the highest praise’, her ‘mother’s prayer’ is
a call for revolution, a shout of freedom,
a call to arms, a undulating cry of grief —
and sometimes, the quietest thing
I hadn’t thought of prayer like this before; the poet has added to and enriched my perspective.
But danger is never far away. ‘Call Me Mara’ is a lyrical piece which looks at regret tied to ‘building a home’. The regret is expressed physically — ‘leftover choices / will make you sick in the morning, love.’ This last line is developed into a partial refrain:
I’ve been feeling sick in the morning, love.
Bent over the toilet, spewing out bitterness.
This is more than a little uncomfortable. I’d like to know why the morning, and love, and building a home are quite so full of pain.
Danger continues in ‘One of Them’, which investigates desecration in a temple. I was particularly taken with a striking visual description:
Deep down beneath the soil
the maggots are gathering,
satisfying themselves, feasting
on bodies smothered in dirt
and garnished with sin.
This could almost have been found in the middle of a WWI poem. The only contemporary clue is ‘garnished with sin’, which is clever and links to other poems of sensation/sensuality. For example, in ‘In Holy Matrimony’ the body is so pure it is drenched / in myrrh, and frankincense, wrapped in gold’.
These are memorable poems. They left me wondering.