Tea With Cardamom, Warda Yassin
Smith/Doorstop, 2019 £5.00
Not the men, but the women
Tea With Cardamom features numerous male characters, men and boys around whom much is focused. For example, there’s the wayward son who disappoints a mother of the almost title poem, ‘Cardamom’, where the narrator asks, ‘How did they teach you / / to unthread the ropes of her heart.’ And there’s the uncle who runs an Arabic school (‘In Burco’), the frightening ‘Stories of Boys and Men’ and the more hidden, but no less threatening, ‘Trophy Wife’.
But the strong and supportive women who permeate the collection interest me most. The pamphlet opens on ‘Victoria Street’ and closes with Yassin’s Ayeeyo (Somali for ‘grandmother’) birthing her father ‘into the palms of our village’. In between these two, we meet a variety of women, ranging from Wassin’s Hooyo (mother) in ‘Weston Park’ dealing with the ‘loneliness of motherhood’, the aforementioned grandmother, the powerful and subversive central character of ‘Seamstress’, a grieving partner in ‘His Passport’, and mermaids and schoolgirls falling in ‘illicit love on abandoned Ferris wheels’ in ‘Tales’.
And I will not forget Ayan, Zuhur, Sundus and Ikram, the four siblings of ‘My Sisters’. The poet’s gratitude for the rough education they provide her is unexpected and striking:
They shot me first, gifting me with armour
against the sting of others’ words.
Now I’m immune to the insults of the universe.
Despite this school of hard-knocks approach to learning, there’s an enormously strong bond, an unshakable love between them all:
My sisters would have been my friends
long before God intervened with blood
They assure my soul
it is the best they know.
‘Seamstress’ closes with the lines
you are the new-born, weaving hope,
to be celebrated, to be worn.
Based on the evidence of this too brief pamphlet, Yassin is to be just as warmly celebrated.