SELF-PORTRAIT WITH MIGRATION AND WOMAN


SNEHA SUBRAMANIAN KANTA



(i)


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.


(ii)


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—

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)



                                        for Pa


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:

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00:00 / 01:04

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.