Often poets feel their words go into the world and did they reach anyone at all? We don't have the markers of big book sales and audiences. But that doesn't mean we don't touch people. It's just that often we don't know that it happened.
So I thought I'd write sometimes about poetry that reached my heart. Maybe I'd write in response (or already had written in response, as in this case). Or maybe write what I saw in it. Not so much for the big names as for poets that might get missed. A poetic conversation among friends.
So-- a conversation with Shush Schiesser's Sacred River
To Shubh's “Beeji”
“Cover my face with her comforter”
When my father died
I took his pillow for my own.
He could not hold me, but his pillow did.
I turned my face to the rich smell of him.
to Shubh Bala Schiesser, Sacred River: Poems from India, Austin: Sociosights Press, 2016
originally in Carcinoginic Poetry from Virgogray Press
More from "Beeji":
Dusty carpet and lusterless bedcover--
How quickly color flees
When someone in the house dies.
. . .
I find a black-and-white photograph
Now turned brown, that re-affirms her presence
In this world; her gaze is fixed on me."
Thoughts on Sacred River
Sacred River has the vividness of child memory. In the poems I loved that her father told her to pay attention to even small things and that she did. She says, "Out of a plain wood log/ He chiseled me into a caring person."
Many of these poems are elegies and appreciations--of Shubh's father and mother, of her father's mother, of a way of life gone. They have a loving appreciation of detail ("... his toes curl like tiny eels/ I hold his velvet-soft feet') and capture the emotional resonance of moments:
How those swings
Tied on low branches quivered
In the courtyard
We sang monsoon songs
While henna ran from our hands
Others are a critique, particularly of the treatment of women in India, a critique that begins at the child level:
While my brother
Climbed the tree in the silence
Of a golden sky
I returned home holding the spindle
"Why girls could not fly kites?"
It expands to the situation of the married woman in "Self-Portrait" (She was not a goddess upon a throne/But a woman who lived in thrall), and forced marriage where she will be "the property/of a stranger" and "wear a necklace of name-calling."
and the aging woman "Indian Widow"
She will eat once a day--bland static food
To suppress and tame her appetites,
Will bathe repeatedly to remain pure enough
To worship the gods ...
In "Hindu Woman" Shubh charts the progress of women from the grandmother who would wash her husband's feet and "he joked she should drink that water," through the educated mother who still followed ten feet behind her husband on the street, even in an era of more equal opportunities, to the narrator's time when she left the painful marriage and defied the relatives who asked, "What will people say?"
The injustice and blindness that leads to a girl child whose "mouth is filled with sand" is counterposed to a sacred tradition that sees the birth of a female as a blessing, one in which women
... tie sacred threads
On Peepul branches, dance
Around the tree and sing
Praise for sun, moon, stars.
The sacred current of a positive tradition hidden and reclaimable within a patriarchal one, the joyful memories of childhood and family, these counterbalance the bitterness of the path laid out for women in the Indian culture. We see why Shubh had to become "a gypsy/Wandering from nation to nation") but we also see why she loved her family and culture. We participate in that love as we read her poems.