By Aicha Bint Yusif
The Moral Judgement of Butterflies (2022)- k.eltinae’s debut collection of poems weaves a vibrant tapestry of the poet’s attempts to find his home in the world. Haunted by a sense of nostalgia, torn by currents of belonging and responsibility, and driven by raw beauty, the poet allows us to take a glimpse into his tumultuous reality of chosen exile and eternal wanderings.
I feel that this collection of poetry captures the deep pain of not finding a home in which the speaker can be himself in all his totality. There is always something missing for the ideal to be lived. For example, in his poem “kohl”, the speaker shares his experience of being shunned away and distrusted when he says “and what about the fear/strangers paint across faces/whenever you cough or share a path?”(7-9). While the sense of trust and familiarity is missing in Europe, a sense of acceptance is missing in his homeland as the poem “gauze” recounts:
“I am almost ready to forget
the noose your father made
the day he warned you
to stop being yourself”
There is no perfect world for the restless soul of a poet, who is in constant rebellion against wearied-out customs, flimsy occidental liberalism and the inevitability of choice.
Hinged between two worlds, the speaker assures us that though it is painful to reside in this liminal position, it is also rewarding to observe the beauty and uncharted territory of possibilities lying in between.
k.eltinaé (source: https://kalaelae.wordpress.com/)
In “ltd: letters that drag”, he uses Arabic propositions called “حروف الجر huroof al jar” to
beautifully and deftly describe the place he comes from; each letter standing for a person who lived a tragedy. He says:
“For ح, who danced himself out of the war with jackal laughter, in love with a different woman every night to wake up alive in the morning.”
I loved the fact that he uses the actual Arabic diction for the letters, because it familiarizes Arabic, especially when it’s juxtaposed next to the English letters. Each letter is a story of sorrow and hope that form the place he left behind. The poem ends with the following statement: “Each of these letters/drag me back to a place/ I can’t believe I survived.” Nonetheless, the speaker doesn’t cease to offer nuances to his relationship with the language, for he says in “kismet” that “[he was] asking directions in that language/ that wiped us off the map.” And I wonder which language does he refer to? Is it Arabic, the language of the Egyptian republic that displaced the Nubian population from Aswan during the national construction of the dam? Or is it English, a language of past colonization that still resides latently (aka neocolonialism)?
Tackling many fronts simultaneously, K.eltinae claims his story and his place in the world boldly and unapologetically. Afterall, he is a Sudanese poet from a Nubian descent that currently resides in Spain. In “breathing exercise”, the speaker plays with the following three words: ensa (imperative form of forget in Arabic), lismonó (forget in Greek) and hatirlamak (remember in Turkish). A juxtaposition of memory and erasure that exile provokes: remembering that “we belong anywhere” and that “we are born borderless until we touch”.
The strings that tie all these places together are the poet’s words: sometimes they surrender to meter, sometimes they rebel against rhyme and sometimes they cooperate to shape an image of the lived experience. For example, in the poem “bloom” a beautiful simile of the speaker’s tears is the following: “The wind scatters my tears,/ laughs like a djinn in the fields/ when they bloom.”
What is the moral judgement of the butterflies? Is it ephemeral or lasting? And why butterflies? To answer these questions, I invite you to gently read this rich collection of poetry with an open mind and heart.
k.eltinaé is a Sudanese poet of Nubian descent, raised internationally as a third culture kid. His work has been translated into Arabic, Greek, Farsi, and Spanish and has appeared in World Literature Today, The Ordinary Chaos of Being Human: Many Muslim Worlds (Penguin), The African American Review, About Place Journal, Muftah, among others. He is the first place poetry winner of Muftah ́s Creative Writing Competition At Home in the World, the winner of the Memorial Reza Abdoh Poetry Prize 2021 from Tofu Ink Press and the co-winner of the 2019 Dignity Not Detention Prize from Poetry International.
Here you can purchase the book online or on Amazon.
This review was writtten by Aicha Bint Yusif