Sabally, the Romantic
Gambia author Sabally
Friday, June 08, 2012
“Love Notes,” title of both a poem and the entire anthology, gives away the type of emotion Momodou Sabally shares. Sure, he writes about many other things as well to inspire, as he indicates in the introduction and countless times in various poems. For instance, he writes about the country, patriotism, responsibility, faithfulness, perseverance, procrastination, books, knowledge and nature. He gives shout-outs to friends, remembers remarkable lives in elegies, and extols visionaries who help bend the course of human events in the right direction.
He valorizes the veterans of the local World War II regiment and other chosen heroes, celebrates outstanding achievers in an array of worthwhile pursuits, and rails against systems and interest groups that hold back the progress of the multitude. He even dabbles in the controversial business of justifying some actions of the current establishment in Banjul. And of course, he won’t be a Baddibunka if he didn’t sing the virtues and indispensability of money.
All these diverse themes, however, are subsidiary to the main thrust of the collection. “Love Notes” is primarily love poetry. Sabally indulges in filial love. He raves about the father he lost before he turned four years old and imagines him with longing pride from the recollections and tributes of other people. He hero-worships his mother, Yaboye, the way no other living soul seems capable of imitating. He basks in paternal love. His three sons reside in the best real estate of his being. Just in case anyone wonders, he underscores brotherly love as well and makes a duty of appreciating and honoring his in-laws. Though deep and exhilarating by the metrics of a willing imagination, these affections are still the mantle around the core of “Love Notes.”
That core is Jai, the Juliet of his being; the center of his universe. The dedication tells it all: “To Jai-Tee With Notes of Love.” Even though the poems are not arranged in chronological sequence, the notes of their love can be traced with unfailing precision from its Big-Bang moment through the evolutionary process. The definitive furthest mention of time is in “Thanks Babe,” a poem of gratitude for her transformational influence on his life since the Martin Luther King Jr., Day in 2008. The significance of this date is cosmic on several levels. They have fallen in love on a national holiday in America, a day of affirmation for human freedom, a celebration of a historic struggle that made America a land of liberty and opportunity for them, too.
The day of triumph can be localized to Atlanta, Georgia, the birthplace of Dr. King, where Sabally was attending university for Master in Economics. The poem begins with a confession: “Never thought it could come true / A perfect match in every way...” He approaches her with a measure of caution and comes away wowed. Then he delves into thanking her for meeting his dreams from the paramount to the inconsequential, her alluring beauty and purity of soul, her love as his sanctuary, her patience being his insurance policy and her understanding like a summer breeze. “I LOVE you my sweetest Sabsgal / And thank you deep in my heart / That you came into my life.”
In “A Prayer for Jaizman,” he kneels before Cupid, the god of love, in supplication for her perpetual love. He prays for the bride radiating light in his nightly dreams to walk into his corporeal world. He dubs her Jai-Tee, crowns her his “Queenie,” refers to her his “heart’s jewel and pride,” and hankers to marry her to make his life better, much better. He prays on for a long life, resolve, wisdom and her eternal love. He imagines the bliss of marrying her and anticipates writing a book about it titled after the movie Love Actually.
They are seen together for the first time in “Jai the Gorgeous,” sauntering in Lower Manhattan. He allows himself a momentary break from doting on her to marvel at grand and elegant buildings that make New York City skyline so famous all over the world. Shifting his reflections to the Founding Fathers for creating a country capable of such accomplishments and so many other breakthroughs, he croons, “America the beautiful.”
We hear Jai for the first time in her own voice saying, “What next baby?” It takes him a beat to get his betrothed’s gentle prodding that all superlative outburst of sentiments must be reserved exclusively for her. He finds himself wondering how she could possibly suspect him of equating his love for her and admiration for America? How couldn’t she not take it for granted that her luminous beauty outshines all the glitz of America? How could she not realize that his devotion to her is deeper than the Potomac and the Mississippi? What could he say to reaffirm his nonpareil love to his “dearest sweetheart”? Three simple, magic words come to the rescue and he sings, “Jai the Gorgeous.”
They are seen together next in “Providence at Night.” The place and time here represent conspicuous developments. In just five short lines, he memorializes the moment he has been dreaming, hoping and praying for all these months. While the capital of Rhode Island and the rest of the world are hustling and bustling, he is sitting at a window table “Sipping a Starbucks Latte with my bride.” The most important information in the poem is that they are newlyweds. However, the place is just as well newsworthy. They are not in Georgia, his state of residence, and they have already spent time in New York. Why Rhode Island out of all the remaining 48 states of the United States? Call that the Jai effect. He flies out of the South for their honeymoon in her New England state in the North East.
As can be imagined they have not always been together given their respective career commitments in two distant locations. Separation of lovers results in loneliness, loneliness creates longing and longing makes the heart grow fonder. “Daddy’s Girl” is his own version of muted cry of jealousy. Like Romeo in a yearning soliloquy, he protests that she has spent a whole day talking with an aunt, an entire evening on a date with cousins and goes off to dinner with her dad, leaving him lonely and sad. He reassures himself, “...truly she’s my Jai-Tee girl,” but adds, “she is also Daddy’s girl.” He laments how much he misses her and goes over the head of Cupid to God Himself for intercession.
What comes out in the prayer is rather dubious. When he pleas for God’s help to share his girl with Aunty, cousins and Dad, we don’t believe him. The prayer is false, or at least half-hearted. He doesn’t mean to share any of her even for the briefest of moments. He wants all of her all the time to himself. Why then has he emphasized that she is “truly” his girl but never applies any defining modifier of equal weight to Dad as well? The “also” for the father-in-law is too weak, too patronizing, too miserly. The final line, “My girl is mine but also Dad’s girl,” exposes the insincerity of this Orwellian doublespeak. If he really accepts or believes that she is just as much Dad’s girl, why has this crucial fact never been mentioned even once in the past or henceforth for that matter? Because it isn’t so. The prevarication is just a balm to soothe the aching heart in the hour of loneliness. Thankfully, he refrains from implausible testimonies in “A Weekend Without You” and “The Call” from her.
Two years on, with both of them back in The Gambia, he continues to wax lyrical about her in “Jai.” She remains beauty in mind, body and soul; a precious flower with “luxurious petals blooming gold” and makes his life a “fascinating journey.” He renews his vows of love and then breaks the news: “The precious mother of our new baby.” In other poems he calls her “Ideal Wife,” “J-Star,” “Meticulous,” “Mother Jai,” “My love,” and surrenders himself to her one more time in “Yours Truly.”Finally, we see them together again, rather too much of them together this time in “Sweet Bubble Bath.” Reading it dares the imagination, leaves the mouth agape in wonder and at the same time embarrasses the prude in the scruple. Dispensing with all the conventions of polite conversation, he writes sybaritic like Emily Dickinson at her most concupiscent. The other equivalent that comes to mind is stanza five of a poem the bride in Rhode Island once wrote to the groom from Atlanta. “Sweet Bubble Bath” is bold, brazen and rebellious. The room is dim. The water in the bath is warm. They gather each other in their arms in silence till the water cools off. “Add some more,” she breathed into his ears. “Yes my love,” he whispers back, wishing it never ends.