Mehnaz Turner was born in Pakistan and raised in southern California. She is a 2009 PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow in poetry. Her story, “The Alphabet Workbook”, is forthcoming in the August 2010 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Her poems have appeared in publications such as Asia Writes, The Journal of Pakistan Studies, Cahoots Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, Desilit Magazine, and An Anthology of California Poets. She is currently at work on her first poetry manuscript, Tongue-tied: A Memoir in Poems. To learn more about Mehnaz, visit her at www.mehnazturner.blogspot.com
This morning a bird mugged me,
its beak pecking at my hair for twine.
The oven mugged my ginger cake
this evening. After thirty-four minutes,
it was shaped like a canyon.
For years, Iraq’s mugged the television,
oil hungry despots have mugged Iraq.
Last night, the sky mugged
by 1200 clouds, signaled an apocalypse.
California’s mugged my Pakistani roots,
mugged every square inch of Lahore out of me.
My mother says, nothing can mug a person’s
memories. I say, the empty suitcases
in my closet have mugged my optimism.
The last time I tried to visit Lahore,
the airline mugged my ticket, the computers
had mugged my reservation. In London,
I had to make a U-turn.
That December I spent two solitary weeks
reading in my apartment. The homes
in Ventura had been mugged by Christmas lights.
Snowmen with carrot noses grinned
clown-like on the front lawns.
One night, near midnight, I drove
around town looking for something to mug.
My pockets were empty. I hadn’t spoken
Urdu in months. I ended up at a diner
where a shiny waitress brought me a mug
of coffee. When she asked about my eyes,
I told her they were waiting to look
at everything I’d ever lost.
Once when I was sixteen, I was mugged
after mosque. A philosophy book shot an arrow
through every minaret I’d seen. Snow gathered
around my heart. For years, it seems, I’ve been
scraping pans, drinking fire, dodging birds.
That night, I couldn’t escape menace.
I stared down at the dripping faucet
in my kitchen, cursing under my breath.
The evening had been a fickle light bulb.
A long conversation with my mother sparked
by the flame of our tongues, the phone
heavy in my hands as the light seesawed
on and off. The whole house shook like
the belly of a lamp nudged by a careless hip.
I had worn a night like this before where
darkness thickened behind the shades, where
I was the skin and the veil, the neck
and the wrench. I spotted a spider teasing
out a web in my dining room, and later
sifting through saris in the closet, my fingers
pressed over dust, and I imagined each garment
in the tomb of its own unwearing,
like the weeks when no light bulbs glowed
inside me, and there were piles of memories
on my desk. I had managed with my khakis
and cotton tees, the odd dress which suggested
I had the fleeting charm of a tourist.
But that night, in Los Angeles, I made sure
to touch the green-lipped hems, even the turquoise
shawl my mother handed me once as a wish.
Scarf by scarf, shoe by shoe, I spelled a prayer
with my hands, making everything new,
even the belts and the caps. Even that too small
ruffled skirt I once bought from a clothing store in Lahore
with all the white of a summer cloud
between my eyes, light fusing with my breath.
China Silk Shoes
I womaned my way into fourteen pairs in the rack.
Three more in the coat closet and four under my bed.
My husband hums the math, skims a puzzled look
over my feet. His favorites include the red sneakers
and flamenco heels. Men are simple, he says with
a shake of his head, as if complexity were a tarot deck.
And I wave through the twin response: part zen
teacher, part succubus. How can I explain that city
women live in the clickity-click of their imaginations.
The sidewalk’s a runway, a yellow carpet spilling
into countries of leaf. How can I explain, when there
are the other days I wish I could pivot barefoot
through the weeks. But my soles would grow restless.
Nothing like a leather strap over each ankle to make
the dinner wine taste like meat. It’s not just a pair
of shoes. It’s that weeping woman in Picasso’s oil
on canvas, getting up and stepping out. She gives her
hips a purposeful shake. I’m headed crimson, she says,
reaching into a kitchen bowl to grab a handful of cherries,
before she puts on her china-silk shoes and colors free.
by David Musgrave
John Leonard Press
Reviewed by KYLIE ROSE
There are a whole host of haunting pains that torment us for reasons we do not understand and that arrive from we know not where—pains without return address.
It’s a Friday night; my daughter and I are taking turns reading aloud from David Musgrave’s Phantom Limb (foregoing Friday-night-murder-night on the ABC). For over an hour, we’ve been circling its rhymes in pencil, finding familiar surnames, drifting into discussion of our family’s history of amputations and water-deaths. We steer a diffuse, yet steady course in Musgrave’s wake, returning to the title poem, over and over. If I’m honest, Phantom Limb is paining me, and I know not why.
I have a feeling there’s something I’m missing.
Systems, order and logic underpin Musgrave’s body of work. His is an exquisitely constructed and formulated world, where painful emotional states are discharged by creating movement in the reader’s imagination through language and form. Phantom Limb reminds me of Adrienne Rich’s description of formalism being “like asbestos gloves”, allowing the “handling of materials [that can’t be picked] up barehanded”
I’m also reminded of symmetry. In The Brain that Changes Itself, I’ve not long read the chapter on pain, specifically the phantom pains delivered by phantom limbs. I’m carrying an image of my childhood hero, Lord Nelson, who was haunted by the presence of the arm he lost in battle. Nelson concluded the presence of his “phantom limb … was ‘direct evidence for the existence of the soul’ his reasoning that if an arm can exist after being removed, so then might the whole person exist after the annihilation of the body” (Doidge, p180.) Somewhere in my mind, these books are fusing.
I’m at a loss to explain exactly why I feel this sense of symmetry, and its relevance, or why I feel so uneasily at home inside Phantom Limb. Perhaps it has to do with the themes of loss and inversion—the real/invisible; the visible/unreal—where I’m limping, trying to make sense of a fluid resonance that defies tangible borders and rational explanation. I’m immersed in Musgrave’s uncompromisingly real limbo, communing with a host of his, and my “sensory ghosts”, memories and memories’ memories; a watery dreamscape where phantoms and legends converge in incessantly questioning waves.
In “Death by Water 1: Hippasos,” the poem’s geometry and trajectory eloquently configure the fate of the mathematician, Hippasos (reputed discloser of surds and irrational numbers).
to his end —
the perfect beauty
of a theorem and, hidden
within, the outrage of its inexpressible truth.
Disagreeing, the retribution they delivered was swift:
between his knowing and their need
for knowledge, he described
‘Two’ and ‘arc’ (letters away from Greek arche, or the ageless, the eternal) become the terms anchoring and prescribing the poem’s structure, linking all characters and realities in life, death, and the inevitable path of passionate pursuit. Hippasos’ past expresses itself to our present. It lends shape to an inaccessible realm, and returns us through the vehicle of form, to its point of origin, transfigured. The echoes of estranged languages, disciplines and eras are contained, stabilised and bridged within the poem’s triangulation. Beginning and end unite enemies, and resurrect the death-splash of one devoted to proving the irrational truth.
Everything in Phantom Limb feels measured, methodical and precise. Placement is critical within and between poems. Binaries are held in delicate and tense interface. Even when conventions are flouted, they are done so with utmost calculation.
Geometry is at the core of this collection, not only locating the roots of Musgrave’s poetic lineage, but plotting a framework for exploring the way we are generally held in relation to others, and specifically to the cast of fathers (absent, oppressive, lost), forebears, friends, lovers and enemies. In “Death By Water 2,” begins in the present with the speaker, following his line back seven generations, where intimate biographies bob and blur, seeping to the conclusion:
That’s what happens with death by water:
fiction flows into fact and fact into fiction
and rising up in a flood of words
the past spreads out beyond the present
carrying into life its drifting dead.
Phantom Limb expresses and expands the subtleties of interaction and relationship, honing the ‘human geometries’ defined in the opening poem, “Open Water.” How, why and to whom we are connected are overarching concerns.
In the title poem, we are introduced to one such relational puzzle.
My enemy reminds me of my father
Present in this linear equation are in fact the three points of an archetypal, yet mysterious, love triangle. The meter and consonance set in motion from the outset, create a desire to solve (and resolve) this problem.
“Who is the enemy?” my daughter asks.
I follow the iambic footprints, trying to discover the elusive feet that pose them.
He is a length of mind
which has no end. He harvests anger
and his name is myth.
I’m wary of speculation. There appears a literal answer to this riddle, and yet a deeper legend returns, arriving — as does the pain in a phantom limb — from an unknown source, accessed in dream. Congruent with the poem’s speaker, I fall asleep at this point, Phantom Limb beside me. And when I wake, a searing memory of Plath and her Daddy return as if from dream, along with a quote of Susan Stewart’s:
Poetic making is an anthropomorphic project; the poet undertakes the task of recognition in time – the unending tragic Orphic task of drawing the figure of the other – the figure of the beloved who reciprocally can recognise one’s own figure – out of the darkness. The poet’s tragedy is the fading of the referent in time, in the impermanence of what is grasped…(p2)
like a tingling nose before the lie
…an itch where nothing itched before,
A phantom absence: the limb I never knew I had, excised.
I didn’t expect to find Sylvia’s ‘ich, ich, ich’ so itchingly, hauntingly close to Musgrave’s assonant ‘I’, reanimating a classical paradigm. What did I expect?
I don’t know.
And that is what I am in love with in Musgrave’s work — the invitation to risk and curiosity. What do I know? Nowhere near as much as Musgrave, and that’s why Phantom Limb simultaneously terrifies and excites me. Momentarily I’m paralysed, awed, imagining my mind as some form of prosthesis for his formidable muses—an inadequate, stump-mind limping to allow the full intellectual flexion between painfully dislocated realities.
My daughter rescues me, cantering through “Young Montaigne Goes Riding,” and I’m captivated anew by ‘que scais-je’? We follow the sustained metrical clop through twenty three sestets adhering to an unconventional abcbca scheme, precociously, inventively coupling words—‘mine/ Saturnine, Aristotle/ battle, excrement/contentment’—echoing the pairing of this prodigious mind and its ‘jouncing nate’. Musgrave’s jaunty and crude, yet erudite Montaigne refines and deepens his physical and philosophical seat, as he and his flight animal traverse the ‘oblique paths’ of thought and discourse discovering, as do we, a steadiness and balance in mutable terrains. Mercurial Montaigne and steed, poem and reader align within the strictures of form discovering liberty within constraint and arriving at the possibility one may ‘revolve within’.
Revolution is a key theme. Within “A Glass of Water” the world of opposites elegantly reverse and wed. What the ‘mirror harbours … the harbour mirrors’. Polarities tumble in the half glass of water, stationed on the unstable railing ‘in the failing/ afternoon light’. All angles, all eventualities exist
down inside the glass, and the newly weds,
seen from outside
joining hand to hand for the wedding reel,
glide under its meniscus, head over heels.
Water is Musgrave’s primary element, and it is little wonder. He returns to what is no longer, unravelling, and restlessly, relentlessly pursues reflection — kindred to his imagined Odysseus, seeking solace and release in the ‘ever-many, the sun-deceiving/ faithful, all-embracing sea’. It is the measure (‘beat up, beat down, iambic swell’) of his investigation of those shifting human states of which he is a meticulously observant part; the perfect element through which to navigate his exacting exploration, as it manifests in liquid, solid and gas.
Water mirrors our habitation of different tenses and states, changing phase, speed and direction, expressing itself in myriad bodies and coursing through this collection, tethering disparate histories, identities and ideas. Inevitably, water begs return, and likewise, Musgrave’s poems bespeak a need for resolution, even if the wholeness sought remains elusive, waded only in dream-swell, as in ‘Bodies of Water’.
I’ve seen how, like a dream
that keeps returning
we move from state to state,
water flowing through us,
we through water,
a consciousness, a breath.
As a child, I fell in love with a number of waterborne heroes — from Jason and the Argonauts to Nelson. In hindsight, I was drawn into their worlds because they so generously mapped the vast and inexplicable terrains of humanity I was barely conscious of, yet so compelled to explore. I loved what I did not know but felt, unfathomably, to be true. Maybe I understand a little better now the symmetry I feel between Musgrave and Nelson’s phantoms and I am haunted, happily, by the uncomfortably consoling echo of ‘Rain’s closing lines.
And when it rains
the earth still aches:
it is never enough,
still it is never enough.
Open, resting on my bed between my sleeping daughter and myself, Phantom Limb leaves me with an uneasy realisation I’m missing much, yet a tingling sense that reconnection to a mysterious, vast absence is possible. I will return, over and over, to Musgrave’s poems, even though I feel it will be never enough, never enough, to fully appreciate the true depth of their intricacy, beauty and wisdom.
Doidge, Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself. Melbourne: Scribe 2010. 179
Rich, Adrienne: The Making Of A Poem; A Norton Anthology, Eds. Strand & Boland. 287
Susan Stewart, Poetry and the fate of the Senses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 2
KYLIE ROSE lives in Maitland with her four children. Her work has been recognized in the Newcastle Poetry Prize and the Roland Robinson Award. She won the Lake Macquarie Literary Award, and has received fellowships from Varuna, The Writers’ House.
The English Class
by Ouyang Yu
Transit Lounge, 2010
Reviewed by SALLY FITZPATRICK
Having resisted colonial forays for millennia, China is ironically westernizing itself, a cultural revolution with arguably as much impact as that of the Great Proletarian Revolution. Even the poorest Chinese peasant, willing to dismiss the intense beauty embodied in the Chinese language, may believe the English language has the power to transform their life. This belief in the transformative power of English is the driving ambition, and perhaps the flaw, in the heart of Jing, the hapless, truck-driver protagonist of Ouyang Yu’s recent novel, The English Class.
Although Jing’s aspiration leads to his downfall, his character provides an ingenious vehicle for Yu’s endless curiosity with both the Chinese and English languages. Yu’s prolific output, to the order of an average of two books per year for the last twenty years, speaks of a man whose fascination with language acts like adrenalin in his blood. In The English Class, as he explores the idiosyncrasies of language, Yu ploughs the cultural wealth hidden within the fields of the two languages, fertilizing, cross-pollinating and producing a delightful linguistic hybrid.
The effervescent energy of this novel, and the charm of its innocent protagonist, compel interest throughout the entire four hundred pages. Reminiscent of the picaresque hero Don Quixote, the hapless truck-driver, Jing, tilts at the windmill of the English language as he bounds around in the Unique, his rattling, truck-without- breaks. More aptly perhaps, Jing resembles Sun Wu Kong, the famous Monkey King, hero of the Chinese classic, Journey to the West, who lampoons the phantasmagorical world of Chinese Buddhist and Taoist belief.
Like Sun Wu Kong, Jing also takes a journey to the West, albeit a West that is now located south, in Australia, where he believes he can rise above the material world, if only he can master the English language. “I can read and speak some English, whereas they can only read and speak Chinese,” Jing thinks about his workmates at the truck depot. “All I ever wanted to do is move away from people, from them, from a life bound by materialism into a life of metaphysics. Truck driving is all about moving goods from one place to another. I want to do something like thought driving, moving thoughts from one place to another.” (115)
Yu brings the flavour of the truck depot to life in precisely rendered characters, such as the fastidious Canton, who “just sits there, his left leg thrown over his right while his right knee constantly jerks up and down as he makes a sucking noise through his big-holed nostrils.” (15) The dialogue makes for effortless reading, humouring the reader as it seamlessly segues the two languages. Gu, the story-teller workmate,scoffs at the aloof Jing: “You think people who go to universities are smart? Goupi! Dog fart nonsense. The xiao bailian, small white face, doesn’t even know how to change a tyre properly and he’s learning ying ge la xi, Englishit!” Mundane English expressions permeate with new meanings and with comedy as Jing attempts to memorize one hundred English words every day at the wheel of his truck. “He knew what egg stood for but what was egg on? . . . he could hardly make any sense of it.” (22)
When he enters University in Wuhan, Jing obsessively unpicks phrases and expressions, as if at a sub-syllabic level, some kind of power will be released, like splitting the atom, which will finally provide the desired transcendence. Investigating the many ways the ideas of yin and yang pervade the Chinese language, for instance, Jing notices that yin, female, is both more prolific than yang, and always bad:
. . . yin wind, yin shadows, yin cold, yin darkness, yin privacy, yin conspiracy, yin danger, yin soul, yin clouds, yin thief, yin world . . . Are there other cultures out there that are only concerned with the yang as opposed to the yin? Is English as bad? Jing could only remember an English word, history, which seemed to suggest that it was a man’s story, not a woman’s. His memory became blurred as sleep pervaded his senses. He thought he fell off a cliff into the pond behind the hill. (155)
Yu balances dark consequences, the barest foreshadowing of the blurring to come, with whimsical touches that keep the text light and delightful.
While Jing idolizes English, a realistic undercurrent flows through the text. This tension between the ideal and the real is the source of the humour that pervades the novel. Yu satirizes Australian society, holding up a mirror that reflects an undeniable cultural poverty in the suburbs. The new English teacher at Wuhan University, the Australian Dr Wagner, muses to himself:
Already he was faced with a class of young people whose aspirations travelled far beyond the borders of China, whose motivation was like nothing he had ever seen in a comparatively dreary Australian suburb, and whose learning skills were amazingly intuitive, coupled with a respect for their teacher that few of his peers could experience in Australia. (240)
Yu’s prose is vibrant with his original and creative English, which he tints with the colours of Chinese literary tradition:
The falling sun would set the lake waters ablaze with fire throwing down a long wide shaft of myriad colours and hues. The air was scented with wild flowers mixed with the smell of raw fish, and memories of the recently dead . . . in the distance was the university hidden among dense foliage with the roofs of its buildings half visible, most conspicuously a column of black smoke twisting every other way above the old library at the top of Luojia Hill. It took Jing quite some time to work out that the smoke was formed by millions of mosquitoes flying together towards the sky. (159)
Here we see the classic antithesis that enlivens Chinese language and poetry, with its surprising juxtaposition of fish and flowers, smoke and mosquitoes. The writer’s prose style resonates at the same time, with alliterative English. Yu revives and rejuvenates language, with his use of archaic expressions, perhaps unearthed as a result of the Chinese government’s exclusive use of romantic era texts for its English curriculum:
“A penny for your thoughts, E Jing, you are in a brown study again!”
“No,” Jing said. “I’m actually in a green study.” He said this as his hand swept the air in an arc that included the tree-lined bank encircling the lake and greenish hills beyond. (236)
Even Yu’s use of words, such as ‘greenish’, maybe considered vague by a native English writer, provide subtlety and charm, while contextualising the received language of the protagonist and the narrator.
The third and final part of the text leaps forward twenty years to a suburban garden in Melbourne where Jing struggles to align his dreams with reality. Here, the narrative also becomes blurred and sometimes hard to follow, as the voice changes between characters, locations and time frames. Even so, Yu maintains humour in the bleakest of situations. As Jing becomes unhinged, he is diagnosed as suffering from:
. . . cultural disorientation and bilinguistic confusion . . . exhibiting such symptoms as a difficulty in switching back into a ‘foreign’ culture after living in his ‘mother’ culture for a brief time; a constant need to assert the superiority of his former culture over the present culture in public while unreasonably denouncing his former culture in private; and a perennial sense of victimization that he did not enjoy full rights as his other fellow citizens did because of his ‘wrong’ skin colour, his wrong shape of eyes and his wrong gait. (365)
Crash landing in the wasteland of the West, the windmill is destroyed and Jing’s identity disintegrates under the impact. Instead of the hoped for transcendence, Jing finds alienation in the face of cringing racism. Ultimately, however, there is a strange surrender to ockerism and the ordinary, which suggests Jing may yet revive himself.
While the Chinese and much of the Asian block scramble to learn English, Australia remains aloof, providing the merest tokens of Asian language education to their young, and failing to provide the means for a meaningful cultural exchange. The English Class is a work that shows the rich cultural potential of language contained within Australia’s immigrant population, a potential for which our previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, aka Lù Kèwén or é™¸å…‹æ–‡, was openly aware. Australia could embrace its place in the East, become better acquainted with its neighbours, and even learn from their ancient philosophies and languages. ‘Easternization’ is a foreign concept, and as yet, an uncoined word. Ironically, spell-check corrects it to ‘westernization’. Let the easternization of Australia begin! Meanwhile, we can look forward to more from the writer of the adventures of Jing.
SALLY FITZPATRICK is completing a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. She is currently writing a memoir about her time following the footsteps of her daughter in China.
Water the Moon
by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Reviewed by KIM CHENG BOEY
In his essay “Transnational Poetics,” Jahan Ramazani argues that mononational narratives of modern and contemporary poetry are inadequate in view of the cross-cultural mobility and rampant border-crossing-and-straddling that many poets of “transnational affiliations and identities” perform. Convincingly, Ramazani traces the beginnings of transnational poetics to expatriate modernists like Gertrude Stein, who announces “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.”
The transnational poetics Ramazani advocates is necessary to understanding the works of contemporary poets with multiple cultural and national affiliations, a good example of whom is Fiona Sze-Lorrain, who like Stein, has made Paris an adopted hometown. Born in Singapore, Sze-Lorrain is an acclaimed gucheng (Chinese zither) whose international performing career from a young age ensures that she is well-travelled and global in outlook. In these exquisitely tuned poems of her debut collection Water the Moon, her musical vocation is translated into poetic terms, the lyric ear trained to capture the subtlest shifts in cadence, weaving into the lyric line a range of geographical and cultural locales and remembrances. Around Paris the collection orbits, including elegies and tributes to Steichen, Arbus, Bonnard, Van Gogh, Man Ray, Picasso, all revealing an eclectic, cosmopolitan passion that seeks to absorb into the lyric influences from the visual arts. Paris and its cosmopolitan air also provides the springboard and counterpoint for the more intimate poems of familial history that return to the poet’s ethnic and cultural roots.
Perhaps the most compelling moments in the collection occur when Sze-Lorrain transplants her cultural inheritance into the international milieu of Paris, mining her Chinese and Singapore past for memories that could mediate between expatriation and loss. These happens mostly in the first part of the triptych that forms the collection; it is primarily memorial in tone and familial in focus. The key figure here is the poet’s grandmother, a presence/absence that is also an emblem of national and cultural origins. The opening poem “My Grandmother Waters the Moon” deploys the culinary trope that is common but vital to Chinese diasporic writing. Here the tradition of making and eating mooncakes is celebrated in absentia – the grandmother is dead and the poet is now displaced from the country where the ritual originated and the other country where her grandmother had made it a special occasion for the grand-daughter. The poem begins with a vivid re-enactment of the ritual, a rehearsal of the grandmother’s mooncake recipe, with the matriarch in the kitchen preparing the ingredients. Then it shifts from the indicative to the imperative, the baking instructions placing the poet and reader squarely in the midst of the grandmother’s domain, revealing memory’s power to transcend time and place. Embedded into the familial narrative is also the historical origin of the mooncake festival; the mooncake was used to conceal messages inciting rebellion against the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty:
About histories, she is seldom wrong.
Time to transform the mooncakes golden —
oven heat for thirty minutes. Her discreet
signature before this last phase: watering
green tea over each chalked face. What is she
imagining again? That someday grasses
sprout with flowers on the moon?
All autumn she dreamt of stealing
that cupful of sky. A snack
to nibble for her granddaughter, the baby
me, wafts of caked fragrance
a lullaby, tucked in an apron, sleeping on her back.
The vignette braids memories of her grandmother and homeland into a lyric that salves the pangs of loss attendant upon taking up an expatriate or emigrant life in the west, evoking a moment of generational intimacy and continuity.
But the nostalgia is not simple; there are also gaps and absences that memory fails to resolves. “Reading Grandmother” grieves over the death of the poet’s grandmother while “Par avion” reveals the physical and emotional distance between father and daughter who are “two cultures apart.” If the grandmother represents the matrilineal heritage that the poet reveres and identifies with, the grandfather is a more remote figure and problematic figure. In “The Sun Temple” the poet is alienated from her grandfather and what he represents – Confucian values and the repressive patriarchal structure that her grandmother was at home in: “I tremble to realise that I can no longer/ remember my grandfather – I am merely a tourist.”
While the first part returns to ethnic and cultural sites, the second suite of poems is located in Paris and deals with the migrant’s narrative of settlement and acculturation. As in the first section, culinary motifs perform a mnemonic and mediating role between the present and the past, Paris and the ancestral homeland. While the culinary images in the first section connect the poet with her cultural and familial origins, the gastronomic tropes here explore the poet’s migrant experience. In “Breakfast, Rue Sainte-Anne” a bowl of Chinese porridge triggers off memories of a more authentic cuisine, and of the poet’s father and the “old rickshaw streets of Shanghai.” The other gastronomic poems – “Snapshots from a Siamese Banquet,” “L’Assiette des Trois Amis,” “Eating Grilled Langoustines,” while finely crafted, are perhaps too conscious of their delectable themes and textures, to offer any memorable insights into the relationship between food and identity. Perhaps the strongest lyric is “Rendez-vous at Pont des Arts,” inspired by Brassaï’s soft-focus black-and-white photograph of the bridge:
Days connect years, years become place —
You travel over dreams or on bicycle.
Will I find you at Pont des Arts?
Moon crossing bridge in vanishing starts.
This is classic Paris, but refreshed and made more resonant by a migrant Chinese perspective, the central image of the moon illuminating a sense of fleeting love and belonging:
The last section, appropriately captioned “The Key is Always Open,” advances the poet’s aesthetic credo. It pays homage to a host of artists and writers, among them Celan, Steichen, Chopin, Van Gogh. The globally encompassing reach reveals the diverse formative and sustaining sources of the poet’s lyric art, and at the same time allows her to transcend her ethnic and cultural origins. “Instructions: No Meeting No World” enunciates a transnational, cosmopolitan poetics above one’s cultural heritage; it counsels “Leave your roots. Leave your ancestors,” as “No life is measured by absence.” The ars poetica embraces a melange of cultural and national sites and practices, weaving them “so that past, present and future/
swells in one immense ocean.”
Water the Moon is a fine example of Ramazani’s “poetic transnationalism,” which allows us to “read ourselves as imaginative citizens of not one or another hermetically sealed national or civilizational bloc, but of intellectual worlds that ceaselessly overlap, intersect, and converge.” There is passion balanced with meditative calm, memory tuned by harmonies of the past and present, and above all a graceful, elegant music in these probing poems of displacement, love, art and loss.
BOEY KIM CHENG teaches writing at the University of Newcastle. He lives in Berowra with his wife and children.
When I’m trapping on the Foggy, / fifteen miles off Catherine Hill Bay, / the world is good” (“Trapping on the Foggy”, lines 1-3) writes Anthony Lawrence in his faux-simplistic manner. In his earlier collections, Lawrence often explores traditionally masculine activities, carried out by men in the company of men, like the drinking and pool-playing at the Anna Bay Tavern in “Lines for David Reiter”, or in solitude, fishing and remembering. The solitary moments are often filled with the urgency of being-in-the-world: the voice plays with these masculine scenes; its subtlety and sensuality is neither obviously male nor female, but both. The themes are human above all, and the voice encompasses many unexpected nuances. In a sense, this renders the voice ‘genderless’, a quality that allows for a more honest probing of the self and the landscape, an honesty that in later collections has seen Lawrence explore trauma and grief by mapping the emotional landscape with sincerity and integrity.
In “Trapping on the Foggy”, we see the narrator reconciling his Other self, his place in the world, and his childhood. This poem is an excellent example of the deceptive simplicity at play in Lawrence’s work, where fishing is never merely fishing. Indeed, the small slice of universe the persona inhabits in this moment is soon encroached upon by the surrounding world; its wickedness enters already in the next stanza on a local as well as international level: “In the morning paper, a murder / in Leichhardt; someone’s fist / photographed under rubble in Mexico” (lines 4-6). Even though the natural environment offers some consolation when the “wind makes calm / the most violent of days” (lines 7-8), this is not where Lawrence leaves us. Rather than pursuing the redeeming features of beautiful and uncorrupted Nature, he turns to the image of the tankers that come and go, which place us so visibly in the vicinity of Newcastle, Australia’s biggest coal port—few are the children who have not counted ships on its horizon. It also places us in the larger context of post-industrialisation, and the contemporary pastoral. These lines echo Charles Wright’s “Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night”, where the oil rigs off Long Beach are “like floating lanterns out in the smog-dark Pacific” (line 3), man-made intrusions in the pristine environment (albeit one where the native flora has already been tampered with: the stars are in the eucalyptus, a species introduced to California for its fast growth and commercial value).
Wright’s oil rigs are mirrored in the “mythic history of Western civilization, / Pinpricked and clued through the zodiac” (lines 14-15). Similarly, in Lawrence’s “The Barn, the Moon”, his persona turns upward and struggles to name what he sees, hinting at a conflict between two worlds. The cosmos invites a reading of the microcosm as the idea of the very large leads to the focus on the minute, on ‘you’—the real pinprick in the universe:
Tonight I saw two planets
aligned over the blunt rocket head
of the Point Moree lighthouse.
Guessing their names,
their position in the sky,
I thought of you.
Wright’s (anti-)epiphany—“I have spent my life knowing nothing” (line 18)—comes explicitly from within, an acknowledgement of his existential condition. Lawrence’s epiphanies tend to come from elsewhere; in “Trapping on the Foggy”, as the persona falls into daydream, out of the depths of his subconscious emerges the memory of a shark:
It’s mostly routine, but once
a bronze whaler followed a trap
to the surface – it came out of the water
and laid its great head over the stern,
snapping in the air, tipping the runabout’s
nose to the sky. I looked into its eyes
and knew it wanted me. (lines 14-19)
The fisherman and Lawrence the poet are inextricably linked, the act of fishing a recurrent trope standing for the poetic act. Recurrent, too, are the hints of an underlying threat: the sharks; the sun, which is “a red balloon dragged under by the run of a surface predator” (“Carnarvon” (x) Collecting Live Bait at Dusk Under the One Mile Jetty, lines 16-17); and the funnel-web spiders “at the bottom / of swimming pools, sipping like deadly / pearls their bubbles of oxygen” (“Black Yolk and Poison”, lines 3-5).
Above all, Lawrence’s relationship with the sea is one marked by sensuality and intimacy:
And with every trap, I release myself
slowly, descending through miles
of green, sun-shafted water, down
through the bubbles, in touch with everything.
(“Trapping on the Foggy”, lines 23-26)
The sensuous moment exemplifies this physical knowledge that one gains knowing the world through the senses, through the body. Many poems touch on this affinity and relationship with the sea, and the sexual undertones are sometimes more explicit. The legs of the redbacks in “Black Yolk and Poison” are “like fingers touching fishing line, / translating vibration into hunger, / hunger into death” (Lines 10-12), hinting at the most human of needs. In “Shearwaters,” the qualities of the sea are hard to separate from those of a woman:
an incoming tide of shapes
that merge to seed a furrow
where the sea’s dark pelt and raining wind combine –
Can the scent and texture of our skin be changed
by such encounters? (Lines 7-9 & 25-26)
The process of creating a poem has a prominent role in Lawrence’s work, as theme and as subject matter. It is as if the poetry cannot be escaped, as if, whether he’s holding a pen or a fishing rod, Lawrence is always writing. This sensation is accompanied by a certain weight. His worlds become one when the lure hits the water, because it must sink into other depths; however, the fishing trope can conjure up an artifice. The idea of being constantly conscious of the meaning of an experience, of its immediacy and pertinence, is exhausting, and potentially means that all moments are tampered with, created, man-made. There are certainly occasions when an indulgence in stylistics and the poems’ self-referentiality dominate:
A pair of sooty oystercatchers are probing
an oyster-blistered mantle of exposed reef
with their red beakspikes. I’ve found it’s
often best to wait a few days before turning
such things into poetry, but the accurate
wading and stabbing of the birds demands
(“Sooty Oystercatchers, Venus Tusk Fish”, lines 1-7)
Here, a chasm is revealed—the writer cannot fully inhabit the moment: he is changing it through the interpretation he is making (and, notably, its opposite is also true: “I move and I am changed, then changed again / by the telling of it” (“Shearwaters”, lines 34-35)).
In “The Barn, the Moon”, Lawrence offers memorable images and another glimpse of his aesthetics: for Lawrence, poetry is part of the natural order, and the only way to make sense of our place within it:
Some things emerge
from the day’s ordered scene
to arrest our inner attention,
and we respond to them,
using words or actions
until they pass, or remain
to build a small fire in our sides:
sunset through a pane of dimpled glass,
and the table is gold.
I respond with a shock of emotion
these words make visible. (lines 1-11)
Not until the words are written, and the images are translated, do their true significance and effect become real. The reflexive element notwithstanding, Lawrence gives equal attention to his narrative selves and the craft, like in “Trapping on the Foggy”, where he skilfully navigates the gaps and achieves a precarious balance through a Wordsworthian return to lost time: “I’m a child again,” he writes, “staring into tidal pools, my hands bent / and pale in clear water, counting bright shells” (lines 37-39). Memory is critical to Lawrence: indeed, to “move beyond the place / where memory harvests meaning” (“Shearwaters”, lines 35-36) is to allow the past a vivid presence.
Clearly, Lawrence is not, as his imagery might suggest, merely a landscape or nature poet. His real exploration is of the inner landscape and the processes at play in being a man and in being a poet. Unlike Murray or Kinsella, Lawrence does not evince a political agenda; nor does he aim to define the Australian landscape and its people. Lawrence makes no grand statements; his is a much more personal, private, and autobiographical poetry. His kinship with the sea resembles Robert Adamson’s affinity with the Hawkesbury, a nourishing and absolutely essential relationship that sees Lawrence, with playful awareness, “finger[ing] the handline like a downcast kite, / translating each bite into possibilities” (“Trapping on the Foggy”, lines 29-30).
The simultaneous presence and absence in Lawrence work—his tacking between inner and outer landscapes—allows for a poetry that speaks eloquently of love and loss; these deeper resonances become more pronounced in his later collections. The mantra that is “The Syllables in Your Name” is whispered in a faraway place, further underscoring the separation. “Infidelity and the Punishments Available” evokes distances growing larger by each stanza. In his lyrical poems Lawrence steers us into another type of unchartered waters: those of the strong psychological states into which he invites his audience. With honesty and openness he speaks of alienation, love, and madness, and again of the role of writing; art, for Lawrence, has become an instrument with which he navigates inner selves and landscapes. In these poems, too, the sea tropes have a prominent place: in “Tidal Dreaming” the narrator ponders having left his “body’s sleeping anchorage” (line 9) and the two characters are in “the wide bays of each other’s arms” (line 10). When Lawrence moves from the narrative into the more lyrical voice, and blurs the line between wake and sleep in this poem, the sensuality of the voice is poignant:
No need to question how far we travel
when behind our eyes time and distance
disengage their symbols to flicker and collapse
like glass in the skylight of a kaleidoscope.
When I lean forward to kiss you, pine needles
fall from my hair. (Lines 14-19)
This is a beautiful, loving, and most intimate moment to which we are privy. Lawrence’s lyrical poems are secretive, opening doors to rooms that not everyone can enter, and where the masculine imagery all but disappears. In these rooms, “rainbows hang in a bloom of spray” (“Just Below the Falls”, line 24) and a narrator divulges a truth in which we may all share: “I’ve been trying for years / to heal the private wounds of my life” (“The Aerialist”, lines 52-53).
In newer poems, like “Scars and their Origins”, there is also a noticeable shift in how Lawrence approaches both the moment and the writing of it:
I learned how to listen and when to distance
myself from the moment, and where I once
went to school on the immediate
and the external, now all I have to do
is remember how you wept and turned away
from the open lesions of my anger.
The distance from the moment allows for a different vision, and a space for healing. When Lawrence describes trauma, he takes a more direct approach to his craft and the snare of memory and guilt. His voice is unswerving, and the metaphors less engineered. This is certainly true in “Just Below the Falls”, which suggests a fall in mood and the crucial role of writing to existence and survival:
It’s been coming on for days, entering my speech
and sleep, bringing news from the other side.
This is how it is, where the sandstone ledge
I’m standing on is breaking away, and the whipbird’s
ricochet is lost to water’s thunder.
Something will happen if I stand here long enough –
a poem will come or the ledge give way,
though I’m through with falling back on the notion
of the suffering artist – we all have our demons
to contend with in our time.
Lawrence’s seductive entanglement of the subject and the poem is an invitation to a most intimate moment: the imagery and sensory connection leaves the subject vulnerable, to his predicament and to his audience. This is a careful balancing act, and one at which Lawrence excels. It is a large task, bridging the gaps between inner and outer landscapes, the craft and the image, and the past and the present, but one to which Lawrence is committed. A painful and arduous act, remembrance is ultimately a saving performance—one that keeps us from falling “captive to the constant / awful noise of reclusiveness” (“In the Shadows of a Rockspill”, lines 14-15).
Lawrence, A. “Black Yolk and Poison”, in Three days out of Tidal Town, 2002: Sydney, Hale & Iremonger Pty Limited.
Lawrence, A. “Carnarvon” (x) Collecting Live Bait at Dusk Under the One Mile Jetty, in Three days out of Tidal Town, 2002: Sydney, Hale & Iremonger Pty Limited.
Lawrence, A. “Lines for David Reiter”, in Three days out of Tidal Town, 2002: Sydney, Hale & Iremonger Pty Limited.
Lawrence, A. “Sooty Oystercatchers, Venus Tusk Fish”, in The Darkwood Aquarium, 1993: Ringwood, Penguin Books Australia Ltd.
Lawrence, A. “The Barn, the Moon”, in Cold Wires of Rain, 1995: Ringwood, Penguin Books Australia Ltd.
Lawrence, A. “The Queensland Lungfish”, in Cold Wires of Rain, 1995: Ringwood, Penguin Books Australia Ltd.
Lawrence, A. “Trapping on the Foggy”, in Three days out of Tidal Town, 2002: Sydney, Hale & Iremonger Pty Limited.
Wright, C. “Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night,” in Chickamauga, 1995: New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) was born in the small northern-Chilean town of Vicuña. She rose from near-poverty to acheive a significant international reputation not only as a poet, but also as an educator, a diplomat and a journalist. In 1945 she became the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
La bailarina ahora está danzando
la danza del perder cuanto tenía.
Deja caer todo lo que ella había,
padres y hermanos, huertos y campiñas,
el rumor de su río, los caminos,
el cuento de su hogar, su propio rostro
y su nombre, y los juegos de su infancia
como quien deja todo lo que tuvo
caer de cuello, de seno y de alma.
En el filo del día y el solsticio
baila riendo su cabal despojo.
Lo que avientan sus brazos es el mundo
que ama y detesta, que sonríe y mata,
la tierra puesta a vendimia de sangre
la noche de los hartos que no duermen
y la dentera del que no ha posada.
Sin nombre, raza ni credo, desnuda
de todo y de sí misma, da su entrega,
hermosa y pura, de pies voladores.
Sacudida como árbol y en el centro
de la tornada, vuelta testimonio.
No está danzando el vuelo de albatroses
salpicados de sal y juegos de olas;
tampoco el alzamiento y la derrota
de los cañaverales fustigados.
Tampoco el viento agitador de velas,
ni la sonrisa de las altas hierbas.
El nombre no le den de su bautismo.
Se soltò de su casta y de su carne
sumiò la canturía de su sangre
y la balada de su adolescencia.
Sin saberlo le echamos nuestras vidas
como una roja veste envenenada
y baila así mordida de serpientes
que alácritas y libres la repechan,
y la dejan caer en estandarte
vencido o en guirnalda hecha pedazos.
Sonámbula, mudada en lo que odia,
sigue danzando sin saberse ajena
sus muecas aventando y recogiendo
jadeadora de nuestro jadeo,
cortando el aire que no la refresca
única y torbellino, vil y pura.
Somos nosotros su jadeado pecho,
su palidez exangüe, el loco grito
tirado hacia el poniente y el levante
la roja calentura de sus venas,
el olvido del Dios de sus infancias.
Now the dancer is dancing
the dance of losing what she was.
Now the dancer lets it all fall away,
parents, siblings, orchards and idylls,
her river’s murmur, the pathways,
the story of her home, her own face
and her name, and her childhood dreams,
as if letting everything that she was
fall from her neck, her breast, her being.
On the edge of the day the solstice curls
around what remains dancing in a delirious swirl.
Her pale arms are winnowing away the world
that loves and detests, that kills and jests,
the earth crushed into a bloody wine,
the night of the multitudes who don’t sleep,
the pain of those without homes in which to rest.
Without name, race or creed, without relation
to anything nor to her herself, she shows her devotion,
beautiful and pure, with flying feet.
Shaken like a young tree in the tornado’s eye,
the proof emerges and cannot lie.
She isn’t dancing the albatrosses’ flight,
birds covered with playful waves’ salty bites,
nor the uprising and the defeat
of reeds pummelled by the wind,
nor the candles that the wind perturbs,
nor the smiles of the tallest herbs.
They didn’t baptise her with this name.
She broke free of her caste and her flesh;
she buried the soft song of her blood
and the ballad of her adolescence.
Without knowing it we throw our lives
over her like a poisoned red bodice
and she dances like this, snake-bitten,
the vipers swarming over her freely,
leaving her to fall as a forgotten
symbol, or as a garland smashed to pieces.
Sleepwalker, becoming what she despises,
she keeps dancing without thought of the changes,
her expressions and myriad contortions,
exhausted by our own exhaustion,
blocking off the breeze because it doesn’t cool her,
unique and electric, vile and pure.
We ourselves are her panting chest,
her bloodless pallor, the crazy scream
thrown to the east and the west,
the red fever of her arteries,
she has forgotten the God of her infancies.
Stuart Cooke’s translations have also appeared in HEAT, Southerly and Overland. His translation of Juan Garrido-Salgado’s Once Poemas, Septiembre 1973 was published by Picaro Press in 2007. A chapbook of his own poetry, Corrosions, is forthcoming from Vagabond Press.
Ankur Betageri is a poet, fiction writer and photographer who lives in New Delhi. His collection of short stories, Bhog and Other Stories, has recently been published by PILLI. His collections of poetry include The Sea of Silence (2000, C.V.G. Publications), two collections in Kannada entitled Hidida Usiru (Breath Caught, 2004, Abhinava Prakashana) and Idara Hesaru (It’s Name, 2006, Abhinava Prakashana) and a collection of Japanese Haiku translations, Haladi Pustaka (The Yellow Book, 2009, Kanva Prakashana.)
Entrance to Subway, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi 2009
Autorickshaw Driver, New Delhi, 2009
by Eva Hornung
Text Publishing, 2009
Reviewed by KATHARINE GILLETT
What is it that makes us human? In Dog Boy, Eva Hornung examines the instinct to nurture and protect, not as an inherently human trait, but as one belonging to the invisibly marked territory of a pack of stray dogs.
Four-year-old Romochka is abandoned by his mother at the onset of a Russian winter. As the chill begins to creep under his blankets and the sky loses its light for the season, he is driven by hunger to take to the streets. When he follows a dog to her home under an old church on the outskirts of Moscow, it is the beginning of a new life for Romochka and suckling alongside the dog’s pups he feels the safety and warmth denied him by his human mother. Almost immediately, the themes of loyalty and love take hold and as the next few winters unfold, we see Romochka’s education extend beyond the primal need for survival.
Perhaps in order to understand what it is like to begin again, Hornung—who previously wrote as Eva Sallis and is the author of journey-themed Hiam and The City of Sealions among other works—travelled to Russia to research the book, which is based on the true story of a boy living with dogs in Moscow. Her cultural immersion extends in the novel to a linguistic one, resonating Romochka’s loss of his human language, which is, of course, useless in his new surrounds:
There was so much in the new world to be learned that he quickly forgot anything that didn’t touch him. This new world had immutable laws. It was divided into realms of danger and safety; it had clear enemies and its own demons. (p. 38)
In a book largely without dialogue, Romochka must learn to rely on his senses: ‘Day was a brief visitation of many greys. Romochka could see the dogs’ eyes and shapes inside the lair only at midday. Otherwise he could see nothing, but could hear and feel where each of them was’ (p. 67). Exiled at the edge of the city, straining to see in the dark or attempting to smell the threat of a stranger, Romochka’s intuitivism takes over, as if he has been reborn.
While the story of the wild boy is not new, Dog Boy explores another aspect of this age-old tale through Romochka’s knowledge of what it means to be human. There is no need for the question raised in Malouf’s An Imaginary Life: ‘What species does [the wild boy] think he might belong to? Does he recognise his own?’ (p. 52). Romochka knows he was once a boy and his contact with humans is frequent and, ultimately, essential. Indeed his reflections on his past life are fundamental to his character:
Romochka could remember this place, but it seemed utterly changed. He savoured the memory, curious. He had been a boy then, with a missing mother and uncle, following a strange dog. He remembered how cold and hungry he was. How unknown the trail ahead. (p. 40)
Romochka quickly adapts to his new life and Hornung convincingly describes what it might be like to live in a wild world. She shows Romochka and ‘black sister’ sharing a slippery rat, each inclination of a paw as loaded as language; Mamochka, his dog mother, licking Romochka’s sores as his clothes tighten or lie wet on his skin; and Romochka’s developing understanding of the territory as marked out by the scent of his brother, ‘black dog’. Romochka becomes so immersed in his dog-world, boundaries begin to blur and the story not only becomes plausible, but realistic and entirely believable.
The language is terse and tight, perhaps reflecting the fact that Romochka has little time to meander; he must quickly move between the hunt for food and the hunt for warmth. In brief moments of abandon he connects with his dog brothers and sisters, tumbling and biting in play, but the frivolity is always short-lived and we are soon drawn back into his isolated life. Given Hornung’s background as a human rights activist, the isolation and exile Romochka experiences could be suggestive of asylum and other states of displacement where the absence of language becomes, like detention, a barrier to inhabiting place. Similarly, although Romochka is accustomed to the harsh Moscow winters, the cold weather, at its extreme in the concrete bunker of the dogs’ den, does little to ease his transition to his new life. Romochka spends long stretches of time unable to face the outdoors, to fend for himself, instead relying on the dogs to bring him food, a practice he finds demeaning, even in his vulnerable state.
Although there is scope for action and tension in Romochka’s situation, little seems to infiltrate the dogs’ world. Any sense of danger is quickly resolved, and, as a mother would reassure a child, the support of Romochka’s dog family is quick to materialise. Because Romochka lives in an in-between world, he is accepted on the periphery of existence: tolerated and feared by humans and dogs alike. The nearby residents who scavenge on the rubbish mountain and the population in town largely ignore them. When a threat finally comes, it is not in any physical sense, but in an emotional sense, when Momochka brings another human baby back to their home. Here, emotions that have no place in a dog’s world start to surface and our concerns begin to shift away from the present—where the family have proven their resilience time and time again—to each boy’s future. That it takes the introduction of another human to bring about the crisis is an inevitable consequence of such a new and complex emotional world; in dealing with his boy brother, Romochka is forced to confront himself.
There comes a moment in the second half of the novel when Romochka sees himself in a mirror for the first time. When he sees a boy—a boy with wild black ropes and tendrils for hair instead of fur—he is shocked: ‘He wasn’t what he thought he was … His calloused paw and scarred forearm were stringy, bald, filthy, long. Wrong’ (p. 161). It is almost a relief to see Romochka in this way, shocked into his own existence. It’s a timely reminder that he is a boy and a life beyond the lair beckons. As he stares at his reflection, all he has come to believe starts to unravel and it’s hard to imagine what the future holds for him and his brother. Can they survive in a human world? We do know that whatever happens, it won’t be an easy journey. After all, the question of how to bridge the indefatigable space between worlds is a question not even humans can answer.
KATHARINE GILLETT has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Newcastle and a background in community publishing and cultural development. She is the coordinator of the Newcastle Poetry Prize.
Bob Hart is the author of two books of poems Acrobat and Lightly in the Good of Day (Bench Press). He grew up in Harlem, on 145th Street, 142nd Street and 158th Street. Her served in the army from 1952 to 1954, and was stationed in Germany during the Korean war. Now he works for a mail sorting company in Midtown West, and lives in Brooklyn.
In A Guitar
I like the anger in a guitar—
it doesn’t need a reason;
no need to gain back face, having lost none.
Its strings smell no insults;
it is mouth, not ears.
I like the sorrow spilled from its hole
whose hollow has lost nothing;
rejoices in its own hollow being
(devoid of void, though massless),
empty bowl of tongues.
I crave the tremored fear of its strings
which riverrun, but nowhere.
Five nerves take turn to shiver their speaking:
our doomless deathless dying
by the blood guitar.
Although it drums an air of its own
it can drum one into battle!
It has no politics but it pushes—
or pulls like blind horse running
as its path shines black!
Man, Can They!
Man those girls can laugh!
I mean they really splatter cheer into the air.
They let go. Oh boy they let go.
Can their chairs hold them, tables contain them?
They should ride horses
jump cloudhigh fences; they should, they should
run beside the running deer; do
Phoenician somersault on bulls, then
leap amid spectators in the stands.
Make way for those laughing girls—
wave banners for them; fly the flags.
Spare no colors. Spare no winds. Let the light
burst its sides with brightness.
Let the heavy turtles of the galaxies
declare a rabbit holiday.
It’s catching. Help me hold my sides.
This is too lively for
the likes of any gravity-coherent solid thing.
Usha Akella has authored two books of poetry. She is the founder of the Poetry Caravan, an organization that provides free readings and workshops to the disadvantaged. She has read at various international festivals and her work is upcoming in the HarperCollins Anthology of Indian English Poetry. She lives in Austin, Texas, USA.
Hymn To Shiva
Here take this bitterness
Hold it in the cup of your throat
For all the lives I may live
Call yourself Neelkant
So I may be sweet as a lyre.
Take these desires
Wreathe them on your body
That I may be a temple
Empty as eternity.
Here take the sight of this world
So I might close my eyes in ecstasy.
Take this, my anger
Seat yourself on it
Your own compassion
whirling white as the milky way
Frothing in your matted locks.
Let it overflow
I want to begin a poem
without saying “I want,”
Wait like a page or
undone button in the dust,
A poem that comes like
a blighted ovum,
fading as a body fades into a shroud.
inside, demons are persistent like
worker bees, it is not the unwillingness
to the divine but
the unwillingness to
give up on the human,
I want the one as the many.
All that is good is in small quantities,
Like the hidden flames in flowers,
Like eyes which are magic lamps
holding the universe,
All that ties us is invisible,
trailing umbilical chords unsevered.
They tell me prophets are missing from caves,
their words floating in bottles in old seas,
and old cities surface like prophecies,
and someone is a silent incarnation working like yeast,
for some this is enough,
here, I don’t know that face in the mirror,
a ship afar, the sails down.
Can there be a dove of peace,
And a dove of war?
Can a country stick out two tongues?
Its wounds bloom like roses
Or explode as rifle fire,
Can there be two dawns?
A dawn of the sun,
A dawn of the night.
Humans, we have two hearts,
One black and one white,
But to see it so exposed…
Botero’s doves are installed in the plaza of church of St. Antonio. Botero donated the dove of peace to the city of Medellin which was subsequently bombed. He donated another on condition that the former dove remain as it is. The two doves stand next to each other, a chilling symbol of Medellin’s history.