Posted by: Viola | July 13, 2014

Poem for Karenne

Poem for Karenne
by Viola Allo

For my friend and secondary school classmate, Karenne

In a classroom in Cameroon, us girls hunched over books, combing
our fingers through thick theories like curly hair,

tangled theories
in chemistry and physics and biology
and history and geography and literature
and maths and further maths,
this all-girl boarding school in Bamenda buckling
beneath the weight of our constant studying,
one girl is simply smoothing her mind over her books,
working quickly but carefully like fingers at a throwing wheel
brushing smooth some river clay–she is sculpting her mind
into a beautiful bowl, nourishing herself with knowledge.

No one can run with her hands and her mind, come exam time:
She takes her page of exam questions and passes her hands over it,
pulls out blank sheets of test paper and her pen
and something like a river begins to flow and flow
and twist and flow some more, leaving
letters and figures on her pages, her etchings effortless
as if some kind of new primordial art.
The rest of us shake our heads and carry them
in sunken shoulders because we know
her mind is a realm we cannot fathom.

We are mere witnesses to the remarkable young woman
in the body of a girl sitting in the corner of a room,
a woman whose intelligence is exploding the windows and walls
and shifting the ceiling, leaving us roofless and speechless
in a world where we are told–daily–that girls cannot be
this blessed with brilliance.
When the exam results come out, we see her name first.
Karenne. And all the other names seem secondary, tertiary,
just the following, the etc. etc. of our cohort’s roll call.
I struggle to find my name, moving my finger

down the list. I’m somewhere, my name is fitted somewhere,
someplace in the middle. Years later, when I learn
that Karenne is a medical doctor,
I am not surprised. And I am proud.
She uses her gifted hands and mind, passing them over people
in the manner of quick comprehension that
those same hands and mind smoothed over her books, and now
they offer help and healing, soothing the world around her–
a woman from Cameroon, a student from Bamenda,
shines and shares her knowledge this way.

Let’s just say, great women take root in Cameroon
and one of them is a woman named Karenne.


My friend Karenne recently had to be hospitalized and is raising funds to assist with her treatment. To support Karenne, visit her page here.


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