We Are Turned to the Right, Too, Poetry Review by D. M. Aderibigbe

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


Turn Left Before Morning
April Salzano
Rattle, April 2016
39 pages
$ 6.00

The first time I came across April Salzano was late 2011. A December afternoon. I had left my hostel at Eni-Njoku Hall of the University of Lagos and was heading to my grandmother’s house. On a danfo bus, stuck in the usual Lagos traffic, I whipped out my BlackBerry phone and somehow stumbled upon a poem on an online journal. The poem was written in the voice of a mother, addressing her son who suffers from autism. I did not suffer from autism, neither was my mother alive, but the voice of the poem instantly spoke to me.

The content of the poem was in exactitude what my mother and by extension most mothers will say to their children.  The same voice in the said poem runs through her chapbook, Turn Left Before Morning. Here is a slim book of poems which comes as a full package. The book begins with documentation of a mother’s powerlessness in the face of her son’s struggle, in this case with autism:

“Maybe God is in the broom closet
at my autistic son’s elementary school, watching
to see if this next bout of aggression warrants

How ironic that this powerlessness is also seen by the speaker as the most likely window to her son’s breakthrough:

“will get hurt, or if instead this will be
the breakthrough where my child articulates
what is scaring him, when someone reaches across
the divide and understands him.”

This book is at the same time a collection of maternal joy. The type of joy that comes with having a child—being a proud parent (this point seems to me to be subconscious, though):
“has meaning, each gesture is a form
of communication, as I wait
for the thank you that will never come,”

The masterful use of antithesis in this collection continues with the speaker seeing herself as a failed mother, in what can be termed, sorrows of motherhood.

“There are days when I want to scream,
I am a fraud
I am not really a good mother.
I am as autistic as you are,
I can articulate myself just a little

To say that this collection is largely about motherhood will be a kind of sin not worthy of forgiveness. This book pays as much attention to the struggle of the speaker’s child as it pays to splintered heart of the speaker:

“I search your lunchbox for clues, salt
crystals clinging to plastic plate, milk
money unspent. I count straws
in the Ziploc bag, touch the seal to feel
edges of plastic track still connected.
I wonder if you had enough water today,
why your pee smells so concentrated. Did they
follow the bathroom schedule I gave them?

Salzano’s deft use of imagery is striking and meritorious. In this slim collection, the images in the poems bring autism and what it does to its victims to limelight, painting lucid pictures that produce a fitting emotional response from the reader:

“In the bath, my son rocks back and forth,
a metronome of monotonous movement.
He holds a mouthful of water, maintains
a closed-lipped smile to contain it
until he can’t anymore. Laughter escapes, breaks
against his will. Water falls down his chest.”

It is this same purpose of exposing autism that governs Salzano’s overt repetition of the word “autism.” This cyclic employment keeps reminding the reader of the battle these poems are fighting, without necessarily editorializing.  

I bet, it is for this same reason that the diction throughout the book is made accessible and pellucid. This not only aids the reader’s visualization of events, it also re-emphasizes the poet’s sense of urgency.

Turn Left Before Morning is a very personal book in that it deals with lived experiences of the speaker and her son. But in reality, the poems here border on love, pain, hope, and melancholy. Tell me what human doesn’t feel at least one of these phenomena? Hence, it is safe to say that Salzano’s heart is as big as the universe, and each and every one of us can pick a piece of us in her sweetness and sorrows.

Photo of D.M. Aderibigbe

Photo of D.M. Aderibigbe

D.M. Aderibigbe is from Nigeria. His chapbook In Praise of Our Absent Father is part of APBF New Generation African Poets Chapbook Series. A 2017 OMI Fellow at Ledig House, he's received fellowships and honours from Ucross Foundation, Jentel Foundation, Dickinson House and Boston University where he received his MFA in creative writing as a BU Fellow and also received a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship. His poetry appears widely in journals and was a 2017 Pushcart Prize Special Mention. His essays appear in Blueshift Journal and Rain Taxi.