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‘My Sister Teaches Me How to Ululate’ by Seema Yasmin

— Lyrik Courtney

While the June issue of Foundry Journal is full of all kinds of gems, I have found myself drawn to loving—a singular, solitary kind of love for a particular poem. I am of the opinion that there’s no greater kind of verse than one whose sounds leap of the page in the instant of the reader’s coherence; greater still than this is a poem where said sound is magnified by touch, the grounding of this ephemeral noise into presentness by a newfound tangibility. In ‘My Sister Teaches Me How to Ululate,’ Seema Yasmin showcases her mastery of the sonic potential of the stanza form: where it is best interrupted, and how its minute intricacies can be stripped down to their finest parts—leaving the line, cleaved to muscle and tendon, in all its sparse and painful beauty.

Watch, we move tongues
like this. I see the walls of our father’s house
collapse and we swim free leleleleleleleleleee

The aforementioned ululations tear free of the seven-line stanzas’ constraints, tear free of danger and fear with a sort of effervescence, bubbling up from the throat and out into the white space of the screen like a shaken Coke. The immediacy with which the language runs might seem frivolous to anyone that does not know brown women, but it would be disingenuous to claim that these aunties do not know how to wield their noise, to clarify in defense of themselves; in this poem, the women flow like water—impossible to grasp and impossibly free, except for when they aren’t. Yasmin’s control of the line is, for lack of a more awed word, impeccable. The poem’s first two stanzas, generally uniform in length, begin to strip themselves in the third with ominous precision—the images that encapsulate the poem move open-handed towards the dark, turning from aunties and open water to embrace runaway women and the restless dead. The fourth—and final—stanza, only three lines, is site for remembrance and regret.

Yasmin doesn’t hesitate to remind readers what happens when the mouths of women finally close, when they are gorged on a different kind of silence. The ease with which the poem makes space for tenderness and hurt (or love and grief) in its arms is a skill learned only through the experience of having to rectify those seemingly-disparate feelings, and it is this grace that we would all do well to learn from as poets, readers, and people besides.


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