Sudeep Sen read English Literature at the University of Delhi & as an Inlaks Scholar received an MS from the Journalism School at Columbia University (New York). His awards, fellowships & residencies include: Hawthornden Fellowship, Pushcart Prize nomination , BreadLoaf, Pleiades, nlpvf Dutch Foundation for Literature, Ledig House, Wolfsberg UBS Pro Helvetia (Switzerland), Sanskriti (New Delhi), and Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland). He was international writer-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library (Edinburgh) & visiting scholar at Harvard University. Sen’s dozen books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Distracted Geographies, Rain, Aria (A K Ramanujan Translation Award), Letters of Glass, and Blue Nude: Poems & Translations 1977-2012 (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Award) is forthcoming. He has also edited several important anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians, The Literary Review Indian Poetry, World Literature Today Writing from Modern India, Midnight’s Grandchildren: Post-Independence English Poetry from India, and others. His poems, translated into over twenty-five languages, have featured in international anthologies by Penguin, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury, Routledge, Norton, Knopf, Everyman, Random House, Macmillan, and Granta. His poetry and literary prose have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Financial Times, London Magazine, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Telegraph, Hindu, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on bbc, cnn-ibn, ndtv & air. Sen’s recent work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta) and Language for a New Century (Norton). He is the editorial director of Aark Arts and editor of Atlas [www.atlasaarkarts.net].
Ten years on, I came searching for
war signs of the past
expecting remnants—magazine debris,
that mark bomb wounds.
I came looking for
people past, skeletons charred,
that once housed them.
I could only find whispers—
whispers among the clamour
of a small town outpost
in full throttle—
sketching outward signs
of normality and life.
In that bustle
I spot war-lines of a decade ago—
though the storylines
are kept buried, wrapped
in old newsprint.
There is order amid uneasiness—
the muezzin’s cry,
the monk’s chant—
merging in their separateness.
At the bus station
black coughs of exhaust
The roads meet
and after the crossroad ritual
skating along the undotted lines
A porous garland
with cracked beads
adorns Tiger Hill.
Beyond the mountains
are dark memories,
and beyond them
no one knows,
and beyond them
no one wants to know.
Even the flight of birds
that wing over their crests
don’t know which feathers to down.
they fly, tracing perfect parabolas.
I look up
and calculate their exact arc
and find instead, a flawed theorem.
Zoji La Pass
at 12,000 feet
slopes steeply. Hard snow
cut into two
by winding tarmac—
a severe cold-slice
freezing to a stand-still.
A car shrinks
through this open-air tunnel—
ice walls on either side—
a geometric strait
the warmth of diesel’s grey metal.
Two yaks on the lower slopes
look up for colour
in this blinding white.
Their horns storing clues,
of changing temperatures.
In this rarefied air
clarified oxygen is sparse here—
high-tone octane echo in the stark terrain.
In Japanese, Yuki is snow—
unmelted and poised.
She sits askance
in front of a wine-tinged door
whose paint flakes
to expose its wood-raw skin—
pale, seemingly snow-flecked.
Her hair rambles all over
her face, eyes, and neck,
as she stares shyly—
sideways into the distance.
There are secrets locked,
in a shut non-descript studio
tucked away somewhere
in Prabha Devi—
as the industrial estate
at the allusive
thought of snow herself.
Fantasy instils in
just as for me—
peeling curls of paint,
a circular chromium lock,
a rusted dis-used bolt,
and breeze that affects
a woman’s hair and lashes,
thaw, compassion, desire.
[inspired by a photo by Rafeeq Ellias]
A bright red boat
Blue fishing nets
Ochre fort walls
Sahar’s silk blouse
gold and sheer
Her dark black
A street child’s
holding the rainbow
in his small grasp
My lost memory
white and frozen
now melts colour
ready to refract
drawing a breath between each
sentence, trailing closely every word.
— James Hoch, ‘Draft’ in Miscreants
some things, I knew,
were beyond choosing:
under cancer’s terminus care.
mama’s mysterious disappearance—
ventilator vibrating, severed
silently, in the hospital’s unkempt dark.
an old friend’s biting silence—unexplained—
promised loyalties melting for profit
abandoning long familial presences of trust.
devi’s jealous heart misreading emails
hacked carefully under cover,
her fingernails ripping
unformed poems, bloodied, scarred—
my diary pages weeping wordlessly—
my children aborted, breathless forever.
these are acts that enact themselves, regardless—
helpless, as i am,
torn asunder permanently, drugged, numbed.
strange love, this is— a salving:
what medics and nurses do.
i live buddha-like, unblinking, a painted vacant smile—
one that stores pain and painlessness—
someone else’s nirvana thrust upon me.
some things I once believed in
are beyond my choosing—
choosing is a choice unavailable to me.
Birds fly across the pale blue sky
cross-stitching a matrix in Pali—
a tongue now beautifully classical
like temple-toned Bharatanatyam.
Dialogues in the other garden
happen not just in springtime. Yet
you stare askance talking poetry
in silence, an angularity of stance
like a shot in a film-noir narrative
yet to be edited down to a whole.
What is a whole? Is it not a sum
of distilled parts, parts one chooses
to expose carefully like raw stock—
controlling patterns in the red light
of dark, a dark that dutifully dissolves.
There emerges at the end,
nests for imaginative flights to rest,
to weave our own stories braving
winds, currents, and the elements
of disguise. Fireflies in the grove
do not belong to numbered generation—
they only light up because line-breaks
like varnam keep purity alive—
enigmatic, disciplined, spontaneous.
Let the birds fly tracing angular paths,
let the dancer dance unbridled,
let the poet write unrestrained—
natural as breathing itself.
Matrix woven can be unwoven—
enjambments like invisible pauses
weave us back into algebraic patterns
that only heart and imagination can.
She walks porcupines—as you do—and
listens to the sound of the sea in a conch.
she has no english;
her lips round / in a moan ….
calligraphy of veins ….
— Merlinda Bobis, ‘first night’
My syntax, tightly-wrought—
I struggle to let go,
to let go of its formality,
of my wishbone
desiring juice — its deep marrow,
muscle, and skin.
The sentence finally pronounced —
I am greedy for long drawn-
out vowels, for consonants that
desire lust, tissue, grey-cells.
I am hungry for love,
for pleasure, for flight,
for a story essaying endlessly—words.
A comma decides to pr[e]oposition
a full-stop … ellipses pause, to reflect—
a phrase decides not to reveal
her thoughts after all—ellipses and
semi-colons are strange bed-fellows.
Calligraphy of veins and words
require ink, the ink of breath,
of blood—corpuscles speeding
faster than the loop of serifs …
the unresolved story of our lives
in a fast train without terminals.
I long only for italicised ellipses …
my english is the other, the other
is really english — she has no english;
her lips round / in a moan ….
her narrative grammar-drenched,
silent, rich, etched letters of glass.
Eating Guavas Outside Taj Mahal
The heavy drunken aroma
of fresh guavas
is too sweet for me to bear.
Instead, I drink its nectar
not as liquid-pulp
but as raw unsmooth fruit.
I bite its light-green rough skin
the way I used to
approach a sugarcane stalk
as a child
crunching every fibre
to extract their juice.
There are memories—
memories attached to food
and their consumption.
There are memories
about the rituals of intake—
how certain foods
are allowed or disallowed
depending on God’s stance
and their place
in the lofty hierarchies
How misplaced these stations
are—God, Emperor, Man
all mistaken—proud errors
of selfhood, status, and ego.
Even under prayer’s veil,
there is something about
eating guavas with unwashed
hands, tasting its taste before
masala, lemon and rock-salt
turn them into sprightly salad—
seed’s bone-crack intentions
buried before they fruit.
As winter secrets
with the purple
what is revealed
soil in a circle.
for a calligrapher’s
in invisible ink,
as phrases fold
so do veils
Nima Kian was born in Tehran, Iran, but left the country during the early years of the Iran-Iraq War. He spent his childhood in Germany where he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union, after which he immigrated to Los Angeles just in time for the L.A. Riots. A resident of L.A. Nima worked in the Entertainment Industry for nearly a decade before deciding to pursue graduate degrees. He currently resides in Lincoln, NE where he attends UNL as a PhD candidate in Poetry with specializations in Film Theory and Nineteenth Century Studies, focusing on Iranian representation in the western literature of that century.
A Persian Ripple
My father sipped his tea, picked up a single
dried green raisin from the tray,
and I watched his bifocals glisten;
his eyes blurred behind his lenses.
A dried green raisin in the tray,
the ideal place to share some words.
His eyes blurred behind his lenses.
Our eyes never need to meet,
the ideal way to share some words.
He spoke to the wooden table between us,
our eyes never met.
The table bounced his words to me.
He spoke to the wooden table between us,
he told me about the students
and the table bounced his words to me.
He told me they jabbed air with slogans.
He had told me about the students before,
they learned their slogans from a fist
so he told me they jabbed the air with them
months before Iran’s king flew to Egypt.
They learned their slogans from a fist,
he said again, months before you were born,
months before Iran’s king flew to Egypt.
Then they joined another direction,
he said again, months before you were born,
where marchers met the sea.
Then they joined another direction,
they crossed their nationalities
where marchers meet the sea
and catapulted themselves into “heaven.”
We crossed our nationalities
with a one-way ticket into America
and catapulted ourselves into “heaven.”
Did students break sticks to understand wood?
With a one-way ticket into America
we forgot that hell depends on heaven for endorsement.
Did students break sticks to understand wood?
Someone drank tea as the march tamed our grass.
We forgot that hell depends on heaven for endorsement.
Wind spun our echoes, defined days
as someone drank tea while the march tamed us
inside cement and brick buildings—lulled cities.
Breath spun our echoes, defined minutes
as my father left for another glass of tea
inside a cement and brick building—lulled me.
I heard him speak to the kitchen counter
after he left for another glass of tea,
inaudible words that demand tone for understanding.
I still hear him speak to kitchen counters.
The table got quiet and still,
inaudible words demand tone for understanding,
so I continued to throw my own words at it.
The table remained quiet and still;
the dried raisins: still dried raisins,
so I started to throw my own words at them:
We feed somewhere between commercials and headlines.
The dried raisins: still dried raisins.
My father, walking back, continued to speak to the floor.
We feed somewhere between commercials and headlines
was my repeated attempt at a conversation with green raisins.
My father continued to speak to the floor
until he reached our wooden table
and my repeated attempts at a conversation with green raisins.
Who will come home is in the mail, he said.
He had reached our wooden table
and I watched his bifocals glisten.
Who will go back is in the mail, he said.
My father sipped his tea with a single dried raisin.
An old woman had a conversation with the ground,
but it wasn’t her voice that spoke to it;
she faced the ground as if that was her labor.
There was no other to walk for her;
age brought her down and age kept her
there. I imagine knowing pain
in that position. Her body had become
a two-legged table that could not fold
beyond a right angle. Draped in blue plaid
she ignored her cane; she carried
a plastic bag of herbs. Every time
her eyes glanced at the scanty bag
she shoved the air that much harder,
shouldered illimitability that much faster.
Ahead, two donkeys grazed in purple flowers
where the mountains hold her people.
two fig roots to the yard
where grass, yellowed, broke.
if fruit tasted the same
because water had changed.
Born in India, Lalita Noronha has a Ph.D. in Microbiology and is a science teacher, writer, poet, and fiction editor for The Baltimore Review. Her literary prose and poetry has appeared in over sixty-five journals, magazines and anthologies. She has twice received the Maryland Literary Arts Award, an Individual Artist Award, and a National League of American Pen Women Award, among others. She is the author of a short story collection, “Where Monsoons Cry.” Her website is http://www.lalitanoronha.com.
At eighteen, in school, when boys and girls
strolled beneath tamarind trees,
sorrow swallowed me like a python takes a rat, head first.
At noon in the zoology department,
I stood beside the python’s cage,
watched his beady eyes, squashed head.
Coiled tight like a fat rope,
he lay oblivious of my eyes
counting scales, marking hues.
I waited till the keeper came,
bearing in a sack, a thrashing rat
he poured into the cage.
How it darted, climbed walls,
slipped, scurried, crouched, froze—
as the fat rope uncurled, slithered, moved.
On the floor the empty sack lay in folds,
the python undulating,
a single hump below its head.
Even in pale light, his eyes ignite her skin,
dark and sweet as brown sugar,
the vein in his neck throbbing
like a gecko’s heart.
She turns slowly, shows no eyes,
no pencil thin or full lips,
just her translucent face, a yolk-less egg
held high to a beam of light.
Like a glinting sword,
she lets the moment hang between them,
the vein in her temple trembling
like a butterfly’s heart.
Waimangu Valley, New Zealand
(for my daughter)
What lay before us was born of violence—
great rocks of molten lava, boiling mud,
black scalding water had rumbled, roared,
exploded from the belly of the earth, swallowed life whole.
But now, winding our way down red cliffs of clay,
streaks of yellow sulfur, flecks of silica,
we pause—beside an emerald pool, blue-green algae,
panga trees, whistling tuis, black swans.
And as mists drift apart,
in the mineral waters, volcanic ash,
we find at last
the fertile ground of forgiveness.
Janet Charman has published six collections of poems. Her most recent, cold snack (AUP), won the 2008 Montana Poetry Prize. She has an MA in English from the University of Auckland and has held writers’ fellowships at both AU and Hong Kong Baptist University. She lives in Auckland.
where people are
where people are alive in jeweled walls
i am a new arrival to this cabinet on the ninth floor
a grey crab immobilised in twine
yet a few evenings later i’m rattling round like an almond in a drawer
then every morning when i scuttle out the weather has grown colder
the newspaper says they’ve opened nine chill shelters for the homeless
i look down to ground level and decide from passers-by if i’ll need long sleeves
some days it’s freezing
cloud shadows pass
palm leaves gust
see how our shudders manifest on the ceiling
at a window across the valley an inhabitant leans out
a twenty second story to pull in her quilt
i am that chopstick that fell from the table
i am that chewed bone left on the cloth
though as i’m beginning to form an opinion
you’ll see me in the lotus shaped bowl they’re filling
with green tea for sterilising
a restaurant utensil
plunged to wash off
any microscopic bit of stuck on sediment
the dishwasher didn’t get at
our graceful host makes her gestures apt
to fit this vessel
which is up to just below overflowing
not quite spilling
i arm myself before we eat
against too much relief at your acceptance
since i am the battle that wants to be fought
but when you say you like what i write
and in your translation
my lesbian allusion
is colloquially rendered ‘female comrade’
i become the big messy nest of an unknown bird
found all along the highway between Qufu and Mount Tai on The Mainland
but no-one can tell me what name that bird has or where it has flown
though it knows
is it centred from a hide in your web pages?
is it scavenging my Octopus card in the MTR?
if you think now you can leave me alone to get on with my independent learning
i am actually a left margin justified crazy person
who agitating at her map in the crowded concourse
will talk to herself
and wheeling down the mountain
i am the green sweep of the mendicant’s robe
drink in his tragic theatre
his rictus of despair
not giving any money to a beggar
i am that woman
to get relief
but high on Mount Tai one who no longer expects
that where we eat
there’ll automatically be a place to piss
and now i’m also understanding
how expectation makes me ridiculous
when we get to The Mainland you switch
and i digest
that since we met you’ve been speaking to me in a foreign language
with men about sex
in a language
can you say if you really wanted me to take up your invitation
for the massage you mentioned?
and when our feet no longer ache would it be
finished? at that time of night
after her last clients
while we head off to dinner
must that masseuse accept some chilly weight? until she gets her ride home late
where i come from that’s what would happen
but in your Microcosmos
the lines of towels of all sizes that hang outside the massage house
are readied for a speech contest
good strong boy-towels wagging the breeze
‘where are all the girl-towels?’
trust me to ask
a rainbow serpent stretching a circle in the soft smooth-flowing water
i am becoming
chosen for smiling in the cold at reception
but however tall i appear in my boots and red coat my shift is longer
i am the parts of many dishes
left on the table when the guests have finished
i am your beloved wife’s voice in the distance
i am the grey Mainland preparing urgently for transfiguration by Capitalism
i have not looked at my hands but they may need scrubbing
and regular four hourly disinfection
i am the wrinkled shirt where the sweat smells like deodorant
i am our unexpected stopovers
i am the line of wash you lift to come into my room
i am the accommodation where the dragon eyes of the smoke detector
are opening and closing
they have seen everything
and many times over
where you hold tight to the handrail i am the precipice you are close to
i am your sensational mouth
i am that day when in our arms for the first time we held our daughters
i’m the friend – mortally ill – who has flown from this country
to be with his family
and die in mine
i am the youth by the fire extinguisher in the moving train
who holds onto his girlfriend as if no-one can see them
i am the sex goddess who uses Botox
i am the Men’s Fun business
i am the boy in the little club shooting up
in the dark
i am the one who has that touch holds down a heart
and wants that talk which opens the door to another time zone
when the answer is no
i am the one who doesn’t hear so well
who wants to sit with you
when our relatives are gone
books leaning together
in the sun on a verandah
i am the one who waits to ask about your cough
i am the one whose teabag lasts for three cups
who wants to be civil to your wife and her parents
and would like to like her better than either of us
i am the one who sometimes makes the audience laugh
who annoys the journalism students with a poem that is too long and not
i am the one whose work you translated
who you pushed to the edge and from whom you retreated
who fears men for every good reason
and still wants to be wrong about them
your poem conversation with a lover -embracing her
i am the one who broke in thinking
should be reopened
when you put the rowdy guest out of your house and won’t let her back
i am the one under a full moon
i am the one
walking on The Mainland in a decorated face mask with her boyfriend
since they are a couple
expects to pay
and she is going to marry him on an auspicious date to be announced soon
but there is still time
i am the one who showers considerately at night for her family
and arrives at work in the morning a little bit sweaty
who knocks a knob on her room phone and starts a siren
who you found in a struggle with the hairdryer
because it won’t turn off
and you hang it up to make it stop
telling me developing countries don’t have off switches
then just at the moment someone compliments me yet again on my left handed dexterity
i am the one whose piece of crispy duck splashes onto the tablecloth
i am the life-size replica of Margaret Thatcher
hunched forward attending the words of Deng Xiaoping
in the Hundred Years of China exhibition at the National Museum i am enjoying
his nonchalant posture
i am the people jam for the Peak Tram
my Comrade Friend was born up here many years before The Handover
above the view i listen for her
i am the Haagen-Dazs mascarpone ice-cream i ate
that one of the staff asked me how to pronounce
but what would i know? since i am the one frozen to the bone at Lantau
who you insisted should try
and then you command me to lay off the soy sauce
which overpowers all the other flavours
intermittently out of the mist
The Buddha appears
very trim at two hundred and fifty metric tonnes
once i saw some women at our airport greet their newly arrived priest
with joyful obeisance
to the side on a bench the European devotee
half perched with the car keys
receiving a blow
if you’ve forgotten what happened the bruises know
in the cold gondolas i am the one who suspects you feel vertigo
and so i can please get some sleep i want my crush on you to be over
when you said you could see more people should read my work
that was the aphrodisiac
but why praise my style by publicly quipping
that in comparison
your own is nothing?
then you give me your selected poems
my friend i’ve read them
you are nothing
as the air is
did you think i’d expire when i find you’re a lyre?
i dare say we’re both lyres
i am the one whose other life waits
like an indigenous owner
for the return of their home
like The Mainland holding on for the return of Taiwan
i am the one who at the back of my notebook makes dozens of jottings
leaving room at the front for important thoughts
and never has any
the one sniffing these other writers’ successes
and till the market women run after me pleading i am the one afraid to bargain
who purchases sundry fridge magnets and three acrylic blend pashminas
for which i can honestly say no endangered species gave up their fleeces
i am the one who in that very local way
agonises over the democratic politics
of giving presents
what to give
to whom and when
with what wrappings and un-wrappings
what to make of the photo opportunities
that spring from these spontaneous demonstrations
and i am the one who wants to live in a place like this
where students walk from satellite campuses in sub zero temperatures
to hear a poet like you warm us through
but because these enclave streets are clearer
on account of the armed guards at the entrances
i don’t want to stay on The Mainland either
then when your airport shuttle is due
i am the one who waits for you
on the last couch
with a gift for your wife
and now you’re on your way home
i see how you can look after a good night’s sleep
you give me your hand with its heat
you are not a photograph in my brain
my voice is wobbling
i hurry off to get it hidden in Pacific Coffee
which is closed
it must be Sunday
i try the dining hall on Baptist University Road
where i choke on my food
and leave it uneaten
but that’s not your pigeon
i’ve run out of Protease inhibitions
i gulp my way down the hill
to the Kowloon Tong station
at least i know where this curved white avenue is leading
walking it like stroking the little bit grubby limbs of a long legged European
at a roller door phone i’m passing a young speaker is saying
‘i am the elocution teacher’
and they buzz her in
that’s what i have become
somebody waiting for anyone who’ll buzz her in
because English here is but one swift current bound in the Cantonese ocean
while we were stuck in ‘The Olive Basket’ transit café at the airport
en route from The Mainland
i tried for a piece of your sweet tanghulu
and even if we don’t collaborate
like you first suggest
despite your objections
that i would know how to go about it
you say these particular characters
are each suspended in a multi-level narrative
which can’t be interpreted into English
my answer is i’d intuit
bite them up bit by bit
if you’d explain i can do it
now you down my questions
saying your text doesn’t stack up in any manner for a language outsider
to comprehend it
-not even if you sent me the words
after your Other Half has seen them into English?
-not even with the way the whole of the two of you
make one of them?
the ideas would be attenuated
but i don’t want to accept that
and now i’m older it takes more people to push me over
hers is another voice i’d like to encounter
i’ll admit it
work in translation can be leaden
in her rendition your poems are incandescent
fired from one language into another
read on a dark night
seen ever after
in their own light
but here your pouring thoughts call for surrender
my head on the table
-then keep your ‘nocturnal emissions’
call them starlight
if anyone can
transcend the sub-textual comic inflections
i can’t resist you
i want your attention
i don’t want to be smashed with a hand on my neck
like in the Judd Apatow in-flight comedy i saw on my way back
where he’s saying ‘this is Hollywood
for at my lit key board
morning comes in finger sequences
and now i’m getting it
in the neck
from the women i was appraising in these gangster movie pole dance scenes
they’ve come down to the front of the screen
and begun appraising
but aren’t those fully dressed men the ones they should be questioning
and all the Directors? who set them up as sex furniture
as i approached you
those women were with me in the transit café at the airport
because in my head among the coffee cups on the remembered table
i felt naked
risking one harsh second to last laugh the universe was having
at the fact our worlds were set
to fly apart
and despite that
i was out there
trying so hard for the sixtieth time in a month to catch your drift
and i want to put that in italics
but i haven’t
and there goes your language up and down and across in strokes of glyph music
even to where
reading it through stinging particles of notes in English
i find my hair standing on end
even to where because you’ve kept me at a distance
i feel as if i’m in The Catholic Church
trying to accept all those common-sense words of rejection
The Holy Father issues
but they might as well be nits since i defy all of them to listen to your arias
and take the tanghulu into my mouth
piece by piece
to my sense of refreshment
as you relent
and show me where you’ve cracked the sugar
in the dead walls of The Confucian Mausoleum
this poem you’re making
takes me straight to the tart fruit i want
if i grasp
your intention is
that The Direct Descendants’ Family Name be transfigured
as a place for women reclaiming their private part
through the small hole of the feminine
shall make a place to
but now i’m out here
in the open
making my stand
on the infinitely renewable hill of the clitoral
where winds drown
or carry my voice
will you hear my shout? that in these phoenix arts
hard by your depiction
i say men have holes
’make them as receptive as anything women commission
is the private part entered only in the feminine?
render the private part surrendered in the masculine
where bees figure in the honey
i am for a morning sunlit beyond planting
good green filth
that sugar snap i get from red work
where the almonds of the earth break into leaf
a fifth season
better than a revolution
make your embrace that poem
yet i fear
with things as they are
i will have to make do
with clopping down the vagina walled avenue to the Confucius Family tomb
the donkey drawing our party through
as the whip cracks across her old shoulders
– the carter’s three year old nephew borne there
falling asleep on his feet
and then we leave him at the gates of the garden of death
transfer to a mini van to get to the main graves
buried among pine forest
no bird or serpent or girl permitted to live
here where The Red Guard came
and later at the hotel you give me the sharp of your tongue
because you know it never even occurred to me to bring an electronic dictionary
Western cultural hegemony
you exercise your right to be angry
yes i’m ashamed
still i presume
to take the tanghulu into my mouth
‘cunt’ and ‘Kant’ you remark
who may use words like that?
-Poets! it is our categorical imperative
i say: ‘wǔdǎyī’ and ‘Hua Yu’
someone! with a point of view
and with tongues Lu Xun’d
what more unforeseeable vocabulary could be spat between us?
in my notebook
you write: ‘bitter’ ‘pizza’
and think of cutting short your trip
but i intend to wade in
test with my thumb to find where the ink has risen
and fill my pen like a blind person
then you arrive from another direction
require me to consider
what of the Chinese culture
will be left
when Capitalism has finished planting the landscape with Coca
i can still argue
that there are numbers of women
coming out of the family whole
to the hill of the clitoris
and somebody else at Mount Tai told us: ‘observances are being made here
to the Grandmother’s Grandmother’
the head view happening
as i look at that mountain
which you conceded was culturally significant
on a five
not interesting in comparison with the strokes of the naked man we saw
swimming in the reservoir
where it started snowing on our way down
or the black swan
which is how i’ve been thinking of one of the women
who was with me when she lit her incense packet
the scent ascending as we prepare to climb higher
‘i never know how to make observances’ she mutters
my answer: just be who you are
perhaps the smoke will wind round our bodies and make us happier?
then as i clamber up the steps i spare an arrow
for the woman guard doing pat down searches all day at The Mainland border
who pinched my genitalia
-that she will find better things to do with her fingers
and that we’ll enter
into revolution together
but rather that your audacious configurations
will deliver to me so many good reasons
why the baby in the covered wagon
who rode with us to the funeral gates
can go back to his mother
and grow up somewhere we are not required to answer: ‘i am ab*so*lute*ly
as the cane beats the sugar into us
she explained that archetypal torture
the ridged place
they hit kneeling men
the ridged place
they beat kneeling women
whatever they were feeling
under threat of execution
required to keep smiling
but what i have
is your voice
dismantling the walls of conformity
a woman breathing
and in her arms of language
the weight of your poetics
bringing to consciousness
the blush of the body joyous
there is more of this
Michelle Cahill is Goan-Anglo-Indian writer who lives with her family and two minilop rabbits in Sydney. Her poems and short stories have recently appeared in Southerly, Poetry Review (UK), Cordite, Prosopisia and Fox Chase Review (USA). Vishvarūpa, her most recent collection is published by 5Islands Press. For a sequence of her poems she received the Val Vallis Award, and she was highly commended in the Blake Poetry Prize.
The Fire Eaters
Agni, did you come from lightning, sticky lava,
from dry, incendiary leaves or the sun’s hot coals?
Long ago, in the middle Pleistocene, our fingers rubbed fire
our compact homo sapien jaws ate warm flesh.
Worshippers, we stood up straight, to grip your spear.
How did we germinate these fields? Bonfires slaked you,
from the alchemy of brimstone and chalcedony sparks.
So temples shattered, so firearms and explosives broke
the great sleeping Buddhas of Ghandhara. We live in hope—
your seven tongues draw fire, dividing symbiotic flames
from air. Gums blister, lips kiss the burning world
goodbye, high on vapours, on singed skin and keratin.
The centuries drag. Our cartels breach the Orinocco,
the salt domes and Babylonian Mosques, unsympathetic
to prehistoric algae, the plankton time asphyxiates. Viscera
are stripped from tidy fossil beds, our pipelines carve
your thermal subjects. Nothing much survives: daughters turn
against fathers. Refineries melt, nuclear plants leak
apologetic isotopes. Yet, sunset converts our gestures
to atonement prepared from rice, cow dung, clarified ghee.
And somewhere with Promethean guile, a man wakes his lover
from her apartment as a light snow dusts the city streets.
In his arms, a two-litre soda bottle filled with gasoline,
on the pavement, a dropped cigarette ignites your flint.
I have not found your idol in any temple, Lord.
Your one thousand eyes elude me in sleep, your
net of pearls shimmering like pins, a flower sutra.
Yet how the Vedic skies praise your light.
Spear fisherman and hunter, each knot you tie
interweaving memory, a reef with a rosebud.
Bowlines and clove hitches are your fetters, all
the lace and twine of this world, the emptiness
it frames, uncharted. Your past might be a silk road
of gold, hemp, musk, caravans loaded with spice,
slaves traded. In my conjuring there are far colonies,
papyrus treaties, gold coins, pierced and printed
with your cognate deities: Thor of old Norse, Zeus,
whose thunder you whet, Bacchus, the soma-drinking
foreigner. Zoroastrian or Armenian, your polyglot
perplexes linguists with a strange loop of origin.
Like Escher’s Drawing Hands you are a paradox
to muzzle me. Water nymphs grace your cloud court,
a half-horse, a man with a bird’s wing, his fibula
inscribed with runes. Even the jade and dewpond
are small miracles, selfless things inventing selves.
Eileen Chong is a Sydney poet. She was born in Singapore where she studied and taught before moving to Australia in 2007. She is currently completing a Master of Letters at Sydney University with a focus on poetry. Her writing has been published in literary journals such as Meanjin, HEAT Magazine, Mascara Literary Review, Softblow, Hecate and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, with a poem forthcoming in Overland. Her work has also been selected for Black Inc’s Best Australian Poems 2010, to be published in November 2010. In 2010 she was awarded the Poets Union Youth Fellowship for 2010–2011. A chapbook of her poems will be published in mid-2011 with the assistance of Australian Poetry Ltd.
When In Rome
You went to Rome on your own
all those years ago. Your maps sat
on the shelf in your mother’s house,
creased, yellowing. We lay
on your old bed that afternoon
and you traced a flight path
down my arm. It’s not somewhere
you want to be alone, you said.
We took a room on the top floor
of the hotel. There was a balcony
that overlooked the cobblestoned lane
that rang like an ironsmith’s
each time a woman strode past
the shops towards the piazza. We
stopped for coffee but did not sit.
You clutched a map but didn’t need it.
I was here, you gestured
at the fountain, it’s for lovers. I looked
to see its beauty but saw only
tourists fingering cameras, myself
included. I let my hands drop
into the flow and laughed
at how cold it was. You kissed me
on the side of my salty neck.
In the darkness of the providore
we stood and breathed in
the brine of the meats, the ripeness
of olives. We learnt the true names
of prosciutto. We drank warm
oil. The man behind the counter
asked where we were from. Paradise.
You should visit one day. He shook his head.
At the markets we bought
red-stained cherries. I carried
them in one hand and your
years in the other. Each step
we took overlaid each step
you’d taken. In our room, I washed
the fruit in the bathtub. They floated
like breasts, free and heavy.
What Winogrand Said
“I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”
So we write. We write
not because we don’t know
what it is we’re writing about,
stuck in our rooms at our desks
with a window facing
the park, the sea, a bricked-up
wall beyond which neighbours
scream at one another well
past midnight. We write because
we’re finding out what
the woman with the cigarette
on the bus felt when she was told
there was no smoking on the bus. What
the young man on the street corner
really wanted with his outstretched
hands and naked, vulnerable neck.
We write because all things
are writable. Nothing
is sacred. Not even the memory
of your mother’s pale leg
propped up on the wet stool
as she washed, you, too young
to turn from the dark flower
at the juncture of her thighs. The scent
of her breast: pillowy, milk-full.
The first time you reached down
and put him inside of you,
even though he, seventeen
and bare-faced, said for you
not to. We don’t know
if all things in our poems
are beautiful, but we do know
that things can be beautiful
in our poems. Or cruel. Lies,
all lies, some say, but really,
we write because it’s not about
what the thing is, at all.
It’s about what the thing becomes
in the poem. It’s about the poem.
Isil Cosar is an Australian poet born to Turkish parents. She is a mother, teacher and community artist who lives in Sydney. Her poems have appeared in Poetry without Borders, Auburn Letters and Zinewest 09.
From tower to tower
I am climbing a tower in my white night-dress
walking swivels of stairs-like the Guggenheim
I’m in search of seeds that I plant in mid air
they become birds and fly to another tower
the gatekeeper nods: welcome to Babylon
here words are keys to belong
which words did you bring? he points to my basket
the first word to escape is
I know now how to catch you and let you go
the Paramedic taught me
when I asked- how–how do I breathe
all the worried faces cried breathe
they could not take my breath, they could not save me
when I was blue and cold and I forgot
there is my breath in that paper bag
here is my life on this emerald earth
it is but it is not
it is 4 17 am-where do I go now
back to sleep like everyone else?
I am breathing
I am asking questions
what’s your name? how are you today?
my name is Adam- I think
….there was a quake, it shook the universe
there was a storm, it seized the seas
there was a fire and it burnt the proof
in order to forget we must remember
some say we should ask God
hold my hand let me touch you
hug me o God- let me see you
I am looking for words and you
look at me o God
see yourself in my tear and say
‘I knew him well’
he was awake at dawn
trying to know me
I am swimming with fragments of words
I speak yet no-one understands me
my head hurts, I must have fallen
I try so hard
but cannot remember
The vast ocean
Not the anger nor hunger
Not the tears nor rage
Not the animated living
What frightens me…
What keeps me awake
At 2 a.m
with a slow pulse
On that dreaded ocean
No land in sight
Bo Schwabacher is an adopted Korean American writer. She explores the art of writing and teaching. She holds a Master’s Degree in English (emphasis in creative writing) and a Teaching English as a Second Language Certificate. Her poem “Korean American Tongue” has been published in Saltwater Quarterly. She currently resides in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Confessions of an Adopted Asian American
My rice is watery.
Associative of Addition: (a + b) + c = a + (b + d)
당신을 사랑합니다 (I looked this up on yahoo.com)
I like eating shrimp dumplings at P.F. Changs.
My family—German & Russian = Schwabacher—ate Daeji Bulgogi and I sipped on sugar water
Sometimes I say 안녕하세요 (I looked this up on translate.google.com) to Korean women in nail salons and sushi bars. I pretend I can understand the Korean exploding out of their mouths.
Sometimes the woman at the Takamatsu sushi bar in Tucson mocks me
“you only know three words and you keep repeating them” Beautiful. Thank you. Friend.
“There’s someone else,” you said.
“You owe me money,” I said.
Navajo Flute Keys
We all like to think of cheaters
as evil people, behavioral economist says. I like
to think of your lungs
punctured and spilling
out Navajo flute keys like saliva
upon the edge of her cranium
the lips of her pussy—the one you claimed
to have never kissed. I think I smell her
woven into your neck, the sweat
of your back. I smell her
in the way you say her name
sweet and forgetful. The behavioral
economist says, Cheaters evade less
after having been punished. A policy threatening
to denounce cheaters publicly
might contribute to reduce fiscal fraud.
Nisha Mehraj is currently teaching English Literature to secondary school students in Singapore. She studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Nanyang Technological University. She describes a love of India and the dream of living there someday.
‘Tea madam?’ asked the tea-master.
She shook her head and continued digging through her handbag for her purse, frustrated, wondering if she had left it on the train. She turned around suddenly and counted her luggage.
‘Three,’ she confirmed and walked in further under the shelter, dragging her red Elle bag with her.
‘Tea very good madam, try one?’ the man asked again.
She ignored him.
‘It’s boiled water if that’s what you’re worried about,’ someone said.
She looked up and saw him and felt something leathery. She pulled out the coffee-stained, off-white pouch and looked inside for coins, dropped a rupee into the payphone and took out a small piece of wrinkled paper from her pocket.
‘You are standing under his roof you know. The least you could do is drink his tea,’ he said.
She didn’t look up. She cradled the phone under her chin and pressed some number.
‘Hel-,’ she listened and placed the receiver down violently. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, mentally counting the miles she had travelled to be where she was. She bit down on her teeth, unable to hold her breath any longer and released the air suddenly. She blinked away the tears. He was staring.
‘Tamizha?’ he asked, leaning against a pillar, blowing into his cup of tea.
Wrapping her shawl tightly around her, she sighed.
It was ten at night. The railway station was packed. Trains had been cancelled due to the heavy rain and passengers were stranded. The railway tracks were starting to flood and people were crowding every nook and cranny. The sound of the rain and the non-stop chatter was starting to give her a headache.
She looked down at her sandaled feet. Her nails were brown from mud and some had dirt stuck underneath them. Closing her eyes, she prayed hard for the rain to stop and the trains to start functioning again.
Everyone around her stank of cheap beedi and body odour. Some women dragged their wailing children and large suitcases across the platforms, leaving the station. They squeezed through bodies, pushing to be the first to get out.
‘I’m afraid he’s going to ask you to leave in a while,’ he said.
‘I’ll go when he says something,’ she said.
‘Finally!’ he smiled checking his watch and nodded, pretending to be impressed.
‘Listen, I’d really appreciate if you would just leave me alone,’ she said.
‘Why?’ he asked.
‘Because… because I’d rather be left alone,’ she said.
‘It’s raining like hell, the call’s not helping and you want to wait the next five –‘
‘Five? You think it’ll last five hours?’ she asked, shocked.
‘Yeah, I mean look at it,’ he thought for a while. ‘Five, definitely,’ he said.
‘What makes you so sure?’ she asked. He shrugged and started to say something. ‘Oh god!’ she sighed, looking at the rain. ‘I was scheduled to be in Chennai by four in the morning! I have a fu – a meeting! At eleven!’ she said.
‘Your meeting would probably be cancelled. It’s much worse out there,’ he said.
‘Damn!’ she adjusted her shawl around her shoulders. She mumbled something under her breath and looked up. He was smiling at her.
‘I don’t know how you people can put up with this,’ she said and turned her back to him. ‘It’s screwed up. I just want to go home,’ she whispered to herself, feeling her eyes well up. She cleared her throat and swallowed back her tears.
The radio crackled in the background, barely audible over the sounds of chatter and the heavy downpour. ‘Illam pani… grrr…bzzz… neram…bzzz…illaigalil magarantha kolam…’ Cups clattered and the giant steel stove hissed every time a fresh splash of oil touched its surface. The place was warming up a little from the heat and smoke.
The strong smell of ghee and sambar made her dizzy with hunger.
The water level was rising as streams of water ran down the platform and dived onto the tracks. She bent down and folded her jeans up roughly, feeling wet and sticky. She brought her nails to her mouth in irritation and stopped. Her usually manicured nails were already bitten too deep and looked disgusting.
‘Anne, mutteh thosai. Nalla kozhe, kozhenu. Thirupi pohdahme,’ he placed his order to the tea-master. ‘You are not hungry as well?’ he asked her. She didn’t reply. ‘Look you’ll feel much better with some food in you,’ he suggested.
He remained standing by the pillar, his hair wet and greasy. He kept brushing it back and looked straight ahead. He smiled to himself while sipping the tea. His striped white shirt was undone to the third button. He had roughly folded up his jeans to his ankles and removed one of his sandals to wipe his foot against the folded part of his jeans. He looked like he had been travelling a long time but his eyes had no trace of tiredness. He looked calm and happy stuck in the storm.
He ran his finger down the bridge of his nose and smoothed down his stubble. When he caught her studying him, he winked then chuckled, seeing her roll her eyes. His grin was small and private. He seemed so happy being him. She envied that comfort.
‘Are there any ho- I mean lodges around here?’ she asked.
‘No. No hotels and no lodges,’ he said.
The place was getting more crowded, with more people coming in only to realize the trains had been stopped. The speakers were blasting the announcement over and over again in grammatically incorrect sentences. She sucked her tummy in in hunger and watched as a small boy handed the man his plate.
The egg was runny and spread evenly over the flour. He poured sambar on top of it and tore the soaked pancake easily with his fingers. He then dipped it between tomato and coconut chutney before chucking it into his mouth. She swallowed her saliva.
‘I’ll get a stomach ache if you keep staring like that,’ he said, not looking up from his plate.
‘I’m just looking,’ she said. ‘You come from here?’ she asked.
‘Ummhmm,’ he said chewing. ‘I’m Indian,’ he said with his mouth full.
‘No, I meant this place,’ she said. Cows roamed around, looking for shelter. Some climbed down onto the tracks and walked aimlessly, mooing painfully. She looked around to see if anyone noticed them but everyone seemed preoccupied.
‘This is part of India,’ he said.
‘Hah? Yes… Of course. Barath Matha ki Jai,’ she said softly and sighed to herself.
She sat down on her brown trolley bag and counted her luggage again.
‘Rendu idilli,’ he ordered some more.
‘You must be really hungry,’ she said.
‘No, I’m just trying to make you more hungry,’ he said.
‘I’m fine,’ she said.
‘Yeah, I can see,’ he said.
She noticed a blue sling bag resting atop the wooden showcase behind him. Maybe he was a photojournalist.
‘What do you do?’ she asked.
‘I didn’t ask you any personal questions,’ he said, blowing on his steaming cakes of idillis.
She looked away, annoyed. No one spoke for a while. He ate his food quietly. He washed his hand under the water running down from the roof and chatted with some people standing around. He went into the shop and came out again with a lit cigarette.
The rain poured down fiercely. It both frightened and mesmerized her in its abundance. Little children made paper boats in newspapers and chased after empty bottles that floated around. She sighed to herself and closed her eyes.
‘You know what you’ll remember?’ He didn’t wait for her to respond. He sucked on his cigarette and moved closer. ‘None of this. You might think of the long wait in the train. You’ll be relieved to be finally moving away from here. In a few months you might recall a few faces and random stations,’ he coughed. ‘But you see after years go by, all you’ll remember is that you were stuck some place where it rained like hell!
‘And what did you do?’ he waited. She shrugged. ‘You just… waited,’ he finished.
‘Maybe,’ she said.
‘See that is what happens to me,’ he said lightly. ‘And I’m going to remember you. You in this…’ he stopped and continued looking at her. ‘Well, I got to go,’ he said suddenly. ‘You have a good trip,’ he said and took the bag off the showcase. He saluted the tea-master and waved at her. He pushed past people and disappeared into the pool of bodies. She turned back and stared at her red Elle bag for the longest time before getting up and walking towards the tea stall.
‘Tea, nalla suuda,’ she said and smiled.
Previously published at Asian Cha, The Reading Hour Magazine, Pratilipi, Switched on Gutenberg and The Pittsburgh Quarterly, I veer between the conventional and experimental in terms of style. Favorite poets include Jayanta Mahapatra, Billy Collins, Neruda and W.S.Merwin. Originally from India, I live and work in the United States.
Life over the speed limit
I look for you everywhere there is noise
but you’re hiding in the equipoise of the red
sculpture behind the homeless teenagers
behind the man peddling god’s word
all I hear is hell is all I know good god
I never noticed how small weather makes
people how absentminded for instance
I overlook pickpockets the daguerreotype sky
anything blue here wields handcuffs
maybe not the arresting blue bonnets how
we looked for them all afternoon listening
to the rain wallop the car roof the soft toy
of an armadillo its soft toy soul frogmen
searching the waters for bodies we can end
the day in epiphany no one need know
Fiesta Flambeau Parade
veterans of all kinds hero worship baton
twirlers clowns Campbell soup the beauty
queen shows the crowd her shoes
the fajita is heaven we are surrounded
by church goers LED rings paper roses
the parade is fed into cameras a lightning
storm of flashes the mayor the sheriff
heads of San Antonio chapters men
of importance so what happened to death
row inmates the whores drag queens
what happened where are the gays
lesbians the underground the unsung heroes
what happened where are they who
forgot their places in the parade it’ll realize
one day the salutes the cheers the floats
the day of the underdog the day poets
will share the glory with men of war
some sort of metaphor
Boiling pigeons alive was traditional.
I heard wings beating against the aluminum lid.
I smelled the blood cooking under wood scent.
The ground was covered with feathers.
The sky was devoid of birds—unless that hulk
of flying metal qualified.