Title: A Thorn on Her Aorta and Other Poems.
Author: Comfort Chunga
Publishers: Likhula Publications
Year of Publication: 2023
Reviewed by : Makewana’s Daughters
The title of Comfort Chunga’s anthology grips one’s attention. It is impossible to ignore it, as impossible as it would be to ignore a thorn on any part of one’s body, let alone the aorta. I was curious about how the poet came up with this title, but before we get to that, we need to look at the ways in which the idea heartbreak. As we look at those ways, we get to see that the references to pain are forerunners to the book’s title.
The first mention of heartbreak is in the introductory poem, ‘Dawn.’ It is a powerful description of resilience; a flower continues growing even though some of its petals have been shredded. The remining petals are withered but this des not stop the flower from growing. There is an insistence on how this challenge does not mean death:
Not dying but grew stunted
It broke it yet didn’t allow heartbreak [to] let it die (10).
A similar resilience is present in the next poem, ‘It kept coming.’ In this poem, the focus is on a small branch which keeps growing despite being given ‘hard tasks’. Towards the end of the poem the author reflects:
In the brokenness there’s greatness if you arise (11).
Chunga’s third poem makes the first reference to thorns. ‘Why’ is a lament by a good Samaritan who cannot help thinking that no good deed goes unpunished. In the depths of despair, the persona seems to cry out:
Why do these things happen to me?
Why doesn’t the earth get tired of inflicting me with thorns?
Thorns are associated with pain and suffering. The earth becomes personified, and the image is one of continuous pain. One might even imagine a scenario where the persona is trying to remove a thorn but before they can even sigh with relief, along comes the earth with even more thorns. There is a moment in this particular poem when the persona even contemplates suicide but, as has been the case with the first two poems that we have discussed, resilience and courage carry the day.
The twelfth poem finally gives a full picture of the extent of pain in ‘A thorn in her aorta’. We learn that the persona is grieving over the death of her father. There is pain combined with shock. Not only is there the image of the thorn , there is also an extended metaphor; the heart is tired, presumably because of the thorn on it:
The blood vessels working like a chameleon’s steps
Since it came like a huge thorn on the aorta
The nerves couldn’t transmit the message rightfully
The image of the aorta is paired with that of nail ‘hammered in her heart’.
In this particular poem there seems to be no chance of resilience. The persona acknowledges raw pain through the images that are used.
Apart from the theme and depictions of pain and resilience, other themes include disillusionment (The suspense movie’), disappointment in love ( ‘ Women resister’ , ‘To all the Lotharios’, ‘ Leave him, Love him’).
The last three poems seem to emphasize the personal aspect. At least two of the poems end with the word ‘Comfort’. The persona merges with the author in such a way that one gets the impression of being invited into the author’s personal reflections. The same goes for the final poem, in which the author/person wonders states that she was given the name Comfort:
So she would know how pain feels and run to comfort.
The author is skilled at creating images that stay with you. This collection is worth purchasing, particularly as one gets to follow the persona through different experiences.