When I read woman poets, I often find a few recurrences in theme and voice: sweetness, maternal affection and sensibility. I do find these qualities in Anuradha Vijayakrishnan’s The Who-Am-I Bird (Bombaykala Books, 2018), but alongside other subtle qualities in the poems in her book: grit, sensuality, and tamed cynicism, infused in the local imagery she uses. One could presume from the title that the book is riddled in questions of identity. It’s quite the opposite. The identity in of the author is quite certain and solid, grounded in local pleasures, tastes, weather and emotions. The questions that these poems ask are valuative, a weighing of what matters. These anecdotes of moments are raw, intimate, feminine, organic in spirit and subject matter, and specific to a place and to the experience of the main persona in this place. And the poems are concise and easy to read, set in an earthy landscape filled with trees, fruit, smells, the texture of skin, children, husband, grandmother, mother, acquaintances and all the activities done at home, told with a watchful eye and a maternal voice, unpedantic, but aware of an end to all things. The poems leave us with the taste of a small town and innocent impressions that veil beautiful allusions to flesh, rot and predation, and remind us that tender self-awareness and love are the temporary remedies for the creatures inside of us.
In her poem “Talking of Mangoes ” (p24), we are taken through a journey in time through the skin of a fictional little girl, growing and coming to the awareness of change through summers.
In the summer there are mangoes. The mangoes
are the summer. Ripe with heat, light and desire,
juices running down the chin like sweet
tears, sweeter than any other.
There is no time then to look out and feel
the heat burn up the black road or call
to the bent man who sits by its side like a fond
lover who will never sin again
or wish for rain.
In the first stanza the author introduces this summer, felt through the sweetness of mangoes: “The mangoes / are the summer. Ripe, with heat, light and desire, / juices running down the chin like sweet / tears, sweeter than any other.” Here, a possibly uncomfortably hot summer is soothed by juicy, ripe mangoes, but juice runs like tears, like something the little girl will lose and miss. These juicy mangoes make her forget about the weather and absolve her from being oblivious to an old man suffering; and they become first loves, propellers, dreams, things she will long for.
In the summer, a child learns to run, then walk,
talk, measure her shoulders
against the easiest windowsill. Then
the child grows so tall that the summer's broad hips
are too small for her laughter. And one night
it rains. Old trees kneel down
as the wind comes barrelling by, right
out of the sky's throat. The summer
is forgotten, as the child marvels
at just how cold it can feel
when a raindrop splashes down
on her feverish face. How cold. She that was born
into the lap of another summer. With mango
nectar in her smile. On the other hand, the sea
could rise any day. In the summer, or after.
Seasons change and the awareness of grief and time is brought on (“And one night / it rains…”), unfortunately so close to the child’s growing “that the summer’s broad hips / are too small for her laughter…” Then, “The summer / is forgotten, as the child marvels / at just how cold it can feel / when a raindrop splashes down / on her feverish face.” That moment of awareness is a moment of awareness of mortality. The child will now know that things end. It is a moment we have all lived and that we will keep reliving whenever our mango filled summers end. And what else to compare this moment to than a cold sensation, a chill, a fever, “She that was born / into the lap of another summer. With mango / nectar in her smile…” will cry one day, thinking of mangoes.
Darryl Wawa is a Port-au-Prince born Haitian-American who studied Photography and Creative writing. He enjoys chocolate and good books. That said, maybe a movie is a good book. He loves to work with images and words and their pairing.