By Doyali Farah Islam
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
The cover of Doyali Farah Islam’s debut poetry collection sees a man kneeling on a prayer mat. He is relaxed, in contemplation, and at peace. A lotus flower springs out from the ocean beneath the image of the man who is Yusuf. It’s a reflection of things to come once opening Yusuf and the Lotus Flower: growth, meditation, and closeness to Creator.
The beauty of good writing is that it takes you places. Sometimes you are led to scenes and locations that are familiar, other times you are brought to completely new destinations. In I Stand In Earthiness Recollecting Islam takes you into her memory of a forest in Canada. She writes of wood burning, the smell of sap, the necks of tall pines, and then she takes you out of the forest and into her spirituality via mention of the lotus flower.
Islam springs back and forth between her spirituality and the woods she remembers. She writes of her experience without forcing her beliefs on the reader. As I read I Stand In Earthiness Recollecting I was taken back to the woods where I collected cedar for ceremony. My eyes were on the page ingesting Islam’s words while I remembered good times up north year’s back. I saw Islam’s reverence for nature in the same way I’ve seen it in myself and in my sweatlodge brothers. Although Islam and I practice different forms of spirituality she brings out similarities in her poems as opposed to differences via a dictatorial stance.
Islam ends the poem beautifully taking me back to the sacred fire and smelling burning cedar:
imagine the fragrant beauty
of the one who is
perfectly able to give all this.
Islam’s faith is strong and made clear in verses such as the one written above. Such belief has not come without struggle. Many of Islams poem’s deal with pain, overcoming obstacles, strength and renewal. Some poems may be about the author herself, others about people in her life, and many about the problems in our world.
In Go As Islam starts by encouraging the reader to “go as a pilgrim though life: be unencumbered”. She warns of the snares in life, the unnecessary urge to follow society and the pain that comes with doing so:
booby traps, body wraps—burgeoning
insecurity when you pinch the fat,
rouge your lips and cheeks
like this, like that
leave that thinness, that emptiness, that put on rosiness.
Many may think this is directed toward women and body issues but it’s a metaphor for many issues people face.
Islam is urging the reader to be free!
The poet is coming from a place of knowledge and not the pulpit. In I Have Been Islam continues with the message of freedom:
I have been where you are.
Inside your sadness thousands of times.
Islam writes of shame and feeling low and how we are a seed ready to sprout into the beauty we are meant to be whether we fit society’s standards of beauty or not. Islam admits to her painful past, “peering into your eyes, I see myself, you are who I am too.” She comes from a place of understanding and encouragement and healing.
Islam has beautiful section titles such as The Power of Sacrifice and beautiful lines that are now embedded in my psyche:
in my tears, the salt of longing,
dissolved into the vast ocean of love.
The poems that fill Yusuf and the Lotus Flower are more beautiful than the book’s cover, and that’s a hard feat to achieve. Like Yusuf, you are at peace when reading Doyali’s words, once finishing the collection you feel like you’ve grown just as the lotus flower springs up on the book’s cover.
Doyali takes you on a journey while holding your hand, sometimes she carries you, other times she has you running after her on a path of love, or swimming beside her in the sea of compassion. Her short poem Borrowed Breath encapsulates the entire collection:
I am borrowed breath,
if you too are borrowed,
we meet in the home of our breather.