Poetry sparks, cures nostalgia for West African student
March 6, 2014
Editor’s Note: This story was submitted by Mustapha Barry, a student in the CSC Social Work Program. A native of Gambia, West Africa, Barry was one of the readers at a recent Graves Lecture Series program entitled, “Poemhenge: Poetry on the Rocks” which can be seen on the CSC YouTube Channel. One of the poems he read, “Reflections,” by Alma Maria Rolfs, prompted this story:
I had no idea that my professor was a surgeon. He had scheduled surgery for many patients and had lined up a list of readers to help. This was exactly how I felt when faculty member Rich Kenney asked me if I was interested in taking part in the Feb. 18 ‘Poemhenge: Poetry on the Rocks’ presentation at the Chadron State College King Library.
I was not sure; I began asking questions. By the time we finished talking about the healing powers of poetry, I was excited. I felt I was ready. The last thing he said to me was, “I will email you the list of poems to choose from.”
The next day I checked my email and printed the list of poems. Without reading them, I placed them in my backpack. As I stepped out of the library, my phone vibrated. It was a missed call from my brother. I called him back and, before I knew it, my phone alerted me, “Your credit is low”.
I thought to myself, "… have I spent $10 already?”
I said to my brother, “Sorry, I have to go. My card is running low.” As I continued walking towards my car, I began calculating how much money I had spent on the credit card that week alone trying to talk to family back home: $60, $80 or maybe $100 dollars? I was so nostalgic for home. As I closed the door of my car, I was still contemplating what my brother was trying to tell me. Was something wrong? Was someone sick again? I could not control my thoughts.
I reached for my phone and purchased another $20 card. This time I could talk for 40 minutes. I dialed his number.
“Assalamualaykum!” he shouted.
“Walaykum Salam,” I replied. The conversation began again, like always, with laughter. Before we went too long I asked how mum was doing.
“She is right here” he replied, but I want to finish telling you something before I pass her the phone,” he said.
“Okay, but hurry,” I replied. I was eager to hear my mother saying her usual greetings. Like always, she was the last one I would talk to. Everyone wanted to say, “hi” before passing her the phone because, once my mum and I start, we never run out of topics to discuss until the card runs out.
I never tire of listening to her voice, telling me things I want to hear. I was happy to hear her soothing voice again.
She asked, “When are you coming to see me again?”
I could not reply. With only one minute left on the card, I asked for my sister.
“She is well,” my sister said. “She came to visit yesterday. Right now we are all in the house….” She paused. There was silence.
“Neneh! Mum! Are you there?” I shouted, thinking of the poor network.
Then, I heard my mother’s soft voice.“You are the only one missing here right now. When are you coming?”
Before I could respond, my credit was gone. I started my car and headed home. All the way home, I focused on her. I thought I needed to go home.
“My mum misses me more than I miss her,” I thought.
When I entered my room, I started reading the poems. One especially stood out. It was “Reflections” by Alma Maria Rolfs.
by Alma Maria Rolfs
My mother once told me
I was just like her.
What did that mean?
Was it a triumph?
Was it a curse?
She glimmers at me now
from store windows,
unexpected mirrors, sudden
she takes me by surprise.
I repeated it again and again. After the third time I felt like I had cured my nostalgia. As I read the last word, “surprise,” I concluded that I had to find a way to surprise my mother with a visit.
On the day of the presentation, I came in sick because I was nostalgic for home. I read three of the poems assigned to me while my professor navigated through his healing powers.I may have helped him cure some hearts with my readings but, by the end of the day, I realized I had been cured, too.
I came in nostalgic and I left with a concrete dream of surprising my mum with a visit. What I am not sure, is how soon.