SELF-PORTRAIT WITH MIGRATION AND WOMAN
SNEHA SUBRAMANIAN KANTA
Even chrysanthemums on the sidewalk shrunk in withered winter
muffled language of syntax and scythe soothe the opaque of a body.
Where did you live before this? Which ocean did you cross before
arriving at this border? Have you been one-acquainted with frost?
At the brink of a nation, I say— let me touch your waters, your trees,
pick fruits, put it out for birds. I make a catalogue of names to remember—
Northern Cardinal. Canoe Birch. Milkvetch. This sturdy joy gurgles
hinge and rustle. What carries us afar if not parabolas of wind?
Synth and guitar at noonday. A calculation for sounds of snow.
I have borne invitations of warm, fuzzy, unknown railway stations
with architectures of magnolia engravings, shops with neon bulbs,
bodies of migrant workers preparing food. Bodies not unfamiliar,
bodies of henna-brown, bodies of holy recitations. The oscillating
fragments of home— a furrowed path. Another direction to define
a frame of light with my hands. A conjunction of prayer beads,
an anvil of departure.
As a woman, the parable states that I must hear more than speak.
Cradle the words of men like unwanted gospels of forced worship.
I must swallow a sea until I birth more. What if anaemia is a refusal
of my body to participate in the handout of halves or lacquer language?
Above an anagram margin, below the white picket fence
our women work the chords of tomorrow’s unwritten history.
A curvature of daylight— scarcity, or the last of winter.
The clasp of momentary rain along tributaries of sunlight.
I carry the smallness of relent inside my bones like a reliquary
beneath the lyric of a red moon. The names of our women
line in my mind like smoke from trees in autumn after a burning.
A mosaic of broken columns from the sun. Where do we meet
our dead if not in shadows of trees over the grounds in lands
we migrate? Maybe all gods gather in this vault of summer
with bees hovering on creepers— the taste of deciduous trees.
The pigment of indigo, or mouths in prayer. Mouths murmuring—
read leaf, vellum, hieroglyph, elegy, listen—
WHERE WE WILL NEVER RETURN
Previously appeared in Muzzle Magazine
Click here to view Sneha's poem.
BONES AND RIVERS
Previously appeared in Synecdoche (The Poetry Annals)
The broken moon
plays with grains of cracked paddy
my father holds a veena
adorns the posture of Saraswati
recites from the Sangam in Tamil,
utters hymns for dry rivers.
The sky is our ocean—
what we know of independence
is a road full of English bookstores,
Winston Churchill dust jacket covers
where thin glass separates our reflections.
People drink democracy in a glass of tea
but night falls, again. Stars drop out
of the sky, bamboo clusters creak.
The faint rhythm of rag malhar
becomes an intangible legacy
of river-eyes and rain-soaked trees.
My father rests his bones over the wall
in a verandah full of jackfruit remnants.
The language of a river inscribes
over eyes of moths and flies
the navel of the land is a lake.
The tissue of language
with fissures written upon it
flow within veins of the river.
My father holds a veena
on his lap and syllables
within his tongue.
I CANNOT DEFINE BEAUTY WITH THE WORD BEAUTY
I. I learn about beauty through a rough translation of Kurunthokai – verse 37. You could argue
it says more about the nature of elephants, but it says a fair bit about beauty. When the
female elephant is hungry, the male elephant strips off the bark of a toddy palm. The sap
flows and quenches her thirst.
II. I meet my grandfather, who I call thatha. I notice his hands swell like the sky wrinkles with
dark clouds. Tha-tha as in the pitter-patter of unspent tears. We lost each other as if time has
made a ceremony out of our loss. He cries when he hears me say malai instead of mountain,
as if he has passed on an inheritance of beauty.
III. Once upon a time, since that’s how all stories start, I was able to breathe freely into the sea.
Now the monstrosity of land folded upon land until it folds into sea stares into my eyes. It is
a betrayal of the language I learn. Wilderness churns in my blood.
IV. A historian reveals that excavations at Adichanalu determine that Thirai Meelar which means
sea farers traveled across continents. It was considered a talent to be able to return back to
the home turf. The reading led toward another instance of beauty. Tamil sailors used the
same technique as sea-turtles to return home. Sea-turtles floated along sea currents but did
not swim in oceans. I sit like a harbinger of tides along the coast, unaware of the migration
or home, in search of sea-turtles.
V. I spend the summer reading Sangam poetry. க ோடை: barefoot on the cement caked
terrace, feeling the midday sun on my thighs. I touch home as the sun ignites in yellow. Over
the skyline, a shadowed appearance of unloosed paddy fields, waiting for harvest.
Listen to "Steady" by The Staves, selected to accompany Sneha's work, below:
SNEHA SUBRAMANIAN KANTA (she/her) is a writer from Canada. She is the recipient of the inaugural Vijay Nambisan Fellowship 2019. Her work has appeared in Muzzle Magazine, Waxwing Magazine, The Puritan, The Penn Review, and elsewhere. She was the Charles Wallace writer-in-residence (2018-19) at The University of Stirling. An awardee of the GREAT scholarship, she has earned a second postgraduate degree in literature from The University of Plymouth. She is the author of Ghost Tracks (Louisiana Literature Press) and founding editor of Parentheses Journal.