Keisha-Gaye Anderson

the door

Review: Karma's Footsteps

January 1, 2012



[kahr-muh]: a vibration; the force generated by a person’s actions.

We are often looking back at our footsteps. Our interactions create vibrations—some positive, some negative. Many of us get stuck in our backward gaze. But the only way to truly heal is to learn how to look backward and forward at the same time.

Mariahdessa Ekere Tallie is a healer and Karma’s Footsteps is one of her balms. In her debut collection of poetry, Tallie—herbalist, educator, mother—takes the maelstrom of human longing, passion, trauma, and resistance, and weaves a potent collection of verse that is at once deeply personal and universal.

Tallie’s tapestry of language is carefully selected. Pithy, precise, vivid—the poems strike a lasting chord without being heavy handed. The collection opens with an homage to Nina Simone. “Her Voice” evokes the legendary songstress in totality. The rhythm, the voice, the angst are conjured in the verse.

tornado blackness,
bent-backed women
walked up her throat,
flew straight-arrow
from her mouth,
Mississippi, Gullah
baptism, the Nile
Congo, belly of
slave ships, Harlem
potent cocktail
of her
pitch
black
notes

Disappeared and silenced women also have a prominent place in Tallie’s poetry. Her voice is one of an observer and experiencer of the ‘othering’ of such women, and a witness to willful ignorance that excuses their suffering. In “Session Four,” Tallie’s verse is urgent and visceral, calling attention the alternate realities of such women, which intersect people’s daily lives.

i.
see the invisible women?

pecan colored
hunched over
conveyor belts

anonymous
cinnamon hands
passing items
over red laser lights

see the invisible women
after hours
behind meat scraps
or whirring sewing machines

who hears their
who hears their screams
break open the night?

Tallie’s “Forced Entry” casts a floodlight on the subject of rape. The voice is vulnerable and forceful at once, and unafraid to expose the emotional shrapnel unique to that experience. The piece ends with a quiet hope, defiance, a call to action, like so many of the poems in this collection, which is a testament to Tallie’s ability to explore the occupational hazards of being female while also conjuring a healing space within economical and lyrical verse. “Karma’s Footsteps” is a riff on “Forced Entry,” but even more intimate and resilient.

my voice
is a loud gathering
of scattered stories
now
my sound is of a woman
reunited with herself
my voice is a demonstration
of tears marching down
defiant cheekbones
tears as loud as footsteps

Karma’s Footsteps ends with “Barefoot Stroll,” which encapsulates the spirit of this collection. It is a mantra and an invitation to challenge the reign of the impossible, which has become modern life. Tallie suggests that a fuller existence of mind, senses, and soul is possible right here, right now, and invites readers to walk with her through such spaces, as she envisions them. The poem is a stroll with a machete through whatever has grown to block out the light or limit one’s view of existence and personal potential.

I want to walk barefoot
in a place where barefoot has no name
in a place where soul on earth
is natural
a place where toes in soil
are common as
true love
laughter
and birth

Tallie inspires and heals in this collection. From the triumph of self-acceptance amidst the tide of Western beauty standards in “Medusa” to the critique of collective memory and groupthink in “Patriotism in Six Parts,” Tallie’s voice is sharp and sophisticated, and her command of form is evident, while understated.

Karma’s Footsteps will make you think, feel, but most of all, hope.

Read more about Mariahdessa Ekere Tallie at ekeretallie.wordpress.com.