Like all living things the elephant adapts as a means to survive. Siana Bangura’s ten chapter collection of poems ‘elephant.’ is survival in perpetuity. The reader is taken on a ride with the elephant, compelled to sustain ourselves and thrusted into a world of unpredictable force and confrontation. We make direct contact with her life story and as a result are permitted to access our own.
We witness the germination and growth of the elephant as she travels on a journey from trial to triumph. This is Siana’s identity on display, it is her experience and as Taiye Selasi told us in her popular TED Talk, “All identity is experience.” The experience inevitably shapes the elephant. The elephant eventually becomes us. We all have lived experience of not knowing how to confront the elephant in the room. Those issues that never seem to disappear but often re-emerge repeatedly in different forms.
Our first confrontation is with that of the immigrant, a mother’s story, a father’s violence, his subsequent rejection, grappling with a sense of home and our nomadic dissonance. Our second confrontation is with hair politics, currency of the skin and the unabating angry black woman trope. Next, we come up against love, its betrayal, the utter disappointment and the desire to find closure. The confrontations become bigger, louder and more intense as we face off with blackness. Blackness being targeted death, suicidal thoughts, exploitation, a search for identity, revolution, resistance, islamophobia and the blanket which is white supremacy. Then we face the men, those who we chose to love, those who never returned our love and those who became our trusted confidantes. Our mothers appeared on the journey as well. She was grandma, she was our ancestral home, she was Ms. Truth. She was the mothers who never loved us despite our longing for her affection. She was the mother we only heard of but wished we knew.
We later gleaned the lessons of life reflecting on friends and relatives we lost along the way. We poured libation in their honour, a tribute and in memory. We battled with depression and a sense of loneliness. We celebrated our girlfriends and the bonds which sustained us, tighter with each tear and stronger with each warm embrace. Those brief moments of escape and tiny morsels of hope. Another confrontation ensued as we felt powerless upon realising that our neighbourhoods were being raped, once again without our authorisation. There was the racial attack, which was a reminder that our collective struggle should never be forgotten. It seemed as though we needed permission to confront the elephant but in the end Siana reminded us, that we never need ask. We identified, named, came to terms with and eventually moved beyond the elephant. Before leaving the journey we were given a choice. The choice was to start again, never forgetting our confrontations but carrying them, not as burdens but as souvenirs from a tumultuous and liberating journey. A journey where we were allowed the space to shed, transform, blossom, improve, reveal, heal and emerge renewed. “This is what it’s like to be an elephant I guess, to live forever and to always remember.”
Review by Jo-Ann Hamilton (Secret Birds).