Tea with Cardamom’ by Warda Yassin -Reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee

Emma Lee’s publications include “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, UK, 2015). “The Significance of a Dress” is forthcoming from Arachne. She co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea,” (Five Leaves, UK, 2015), is Poetry Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for magazines and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.

Tea with Cardamon

‘Tea with Cardamom’ Warda Yassin

Smiths Doorstop

ISBN 9781912196722, 25pp, £5

Warda Yassin is a British-born Somali currently based in the UK and her poems explore stories passed down between family generations and finding a path between two cultures. In ‘Cardamom’, the addressee’s mother became ‘homeless in her Dubai imported living room. Threading the years
into abaayas and daughters, serving tea without cardamom.

Was there a day you tried to teach her war was safe – the charred feet,
burning neighbourhoods, familiar limbs, counting heads? The running
and the loss, the losing and the praying next to your empty bed?
Why didn’t you learn that mothers turn into refugees when we leave?’

The imported furniture make her current dwelling feel like home, by bringing familiar furnishings in, yet she is adapting to her current country by omitting cardamom from her tea. She can’t return to a war zone yet it follows her, particularly the loss, which is impossible to adjust to. When daughters grow up and leave, her role as mother becomes less necessary, triggering another period of adjustment. The long lines create a sense of breathlessness. This echoes the sense of people still out of synch with their situation, struggling but coping. The theme of refugees still carrying their trauma is picked up in ‘Stories of Boys and Men’, where refugees were packed

‘inside crates the grieving sea, cold hands feverishly pulling at fabric.
Those who died to arrive safe. I know of fathers who burned 
their memories and frayed their tongues; men who have gained
nothing, whose children are conscripted to the war they fled,

turning the streets, the living rooms, their mother’s womb’s
into graveyards. And I know those women who wear emptiness
like phones that ring out unanswered, mothers whose backs buckle
under the weight of storms. I know of sisters who keep tally.’

There’s no judgement on the sons who fight in wars their parents fled. There’s no sense of self-pity either, just acceptance of the burden of the aftermath of war. The poem is densely packed and the use of enjambment gives it a sense of urgency. The decision to stay or leave has to be taken before there’s time to digest the consequences, the weight of grief and guilt, and the pull of memory.

The poems move from arrival to settlement and Warda Yassin writes of growing up in a city in the north of the UK. In ‘Blick’,

‘The first man to read the Adaan was Bilal who was blick,
the Noor of his face filtering through the moonlight, the timbre
of a voice heard by all. And he and those of us who are blick
are as coal-strong as a furnace in a northern factory, as dark
as my father’s village after rain. Have you ever been held
by the night, her strong, blick arms cloaking you from this
alabaster world? Whenever I am tired, she’ll turn off the light,
allow me to disappear into kinder shadows, embroider 
my mother’s body into the nocturnal sky.’

Family has become a shelter from living in a predominately white area. The rhythm has become more measured and gentle. It turns a negative, black, into the positive of familial love.

‘Tea with Cardamom’ is ambitious in scope, travelling through intergenerational trauma and loss but leavening the grief with dashes of humour and keeping the momentum moving forward to find hope. Warda Yassin demonstrates knowledge of craft and rhythm, knowing when to slow and when to speed up. The result is vibrant poems not afraid to shine a light into shadows in the spirit of exploration and communication.