Fatbergs, Andrea Mbarushimana
KFS Pamphlets, 2021 £7.00
A poet who doesn’t look away
There are certain elements to life we’d rather gloss over. We grimace at messy things to do with our bodies, especially when they’re ailing, when they’re dying….
The title Fatbergs immediately evokes a sense of unpleasant things lurking. It sets the reader up to expect unflinching poems, poems that draw up every kind of human frailty from under dark waters.
‘Motherhood’ is described as ‘a mechanical phase’. ‘You try to keep it together,’ says the speaker, ‘soft stuff on the inside / so as not to release a tidal wave.’ She follows this with an extraordinary poem (‘Zero Hour’) that seeks to illustrate what mental illness can actually feel like. Mbarushimana achieves this by muddling the letters within words: they become nonsensical while still recognisable. The poem begins:
People always ask: ‘What happened and where were you
and what did it feel like?’
I was sat at the chicken table,
lids in the kiving room,
a strange creature hatched out of my chest
The fearful strangeness here makes for a powerfully evocative and scary piece of writing. It gives genuine insight into a lived experience where ‘Everything was the same and / Everything was different.’
There is a poem about the final moments at the bedside of a loved one entitled ‘Cheyne-Stokes’. This is the medical term given to abnormal breathing, often associated with a person close to death. Here ‘Death’s made himself comfy / in the one spare plastic seat.’
There are others, too, that look at death — not just grief, but the actual physical end of life of a human. The poet shows the reader what happens to the body, and what it’s like to be there, to see it.
These difficult, intimate facts are what people want to know. Hard though it may be, it helps us to be prepared.
Mbarushimana draws on raw subject matter in an unflinching way that’s at the same time sensitive and respectful. These poems show the value of a human life, right to the end.