Categories
Poetry

Legends in Verse

By Jared Carter

Sarcophagus with the myth of Protesilaus and Laodamia. Here, Laodamia grieves for the loss of her husband Protesilaus in the Trojan War. From a tomb along the Via Appia Nuova, ca. 160-170 CE: Creative Commons
Laodamia to Protesilaus

If you were lost, how would I find you,
what path take along dark streets, through
damp vaults, how untangle those choices
far underground, those myriad voices?

If I were gone, you could no longer follow
through great spillways, or deep hollows
in that world. My footsteps would fade,
there would be no echo, no light or shade.

Still, somewhere your presence ahead
would call, through realms of the dead,
through time imploded and turned back,
platform deserted, abandoned track.

No pause in this long pursuit, this seeking
that has no end. Neither of us speaking,
or able to break the spell – neither chase
nor surrender. Only the lost, familiar face.

(First published in The Raintown Review.)


Resurrection

The body rises up at last,
          it cannot keep
Its distance from what comes to pass,
          when more than sleep

Is beckoning. To bid adieu
          and still to bless,
Savonarola reached out through
          the flames; and pressed

Against them, Frida Kahlo sat
          upright, as though
Awakening at last from what
          is merely show.

(First published in Clementine Unbound.)


Jared Carter’s most recent collection, The Land Itself, is from Monongahela Books in West Virginia. His Darkened Rooms of Summer: New and Selected Poems, with an introduction by Ted Kooser, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2014. A recipient of several literary awards and fellowships, Carter is from the state of Indiana in the U.S.

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Categories
Poetry

Seasonal Whispers

Poetry by Jared Carter

  
 Visitant
 
 What is that calling on the wind
           that never seems a moment still?
 That moves in darkness like a hand
           of many fingers taken chill?
 
 What is it seeking when it flows
           about my head, and seems to wrest
 All motion from my heart, as though
           I still had something to confess?
 
 How can it be it knows my crime –
           this troubled whistling in the air?
 'Tis true, I left her long behind,
           but this is dark, and she was fair.
 
 (First published in The New Formalist)
  
 Snow
 
 At every hand there are moments we
 cannot quite grasp or understand. Free
 
 to decide, to interpret, we watch rain
 streaking down the window, the drain
 
 emptying, leaves blown by a cold wind.
 At least we sense a continuity in
 
 such falling away. But not with snow.
 It is forgetfulness, what does not know,
 
 has nothing to remember in the first place.
 Its purpose is to cover, to leave no trace
 
 of anything. Whatever was there before – 
 the worn broom leaned against the door
 
 and almost buried now, the pile of brick,
 the bushel basket filling up with thick,
 
 gathering whiteness, half sunk in a drift – 
 all these things are lost in the slow sift
 
 of the snow's falling. Now someone asks
 if you can remember – such a simple task –
 
 the time before you were born. Of course
 you cannot, nor can I. Snow is the horse
 
 that would never dream of running away,
 that plods on, pulling the empty sleigh
 
 while the tracks behind it fill, and soon
 everything is smooth again. No moon,
 
 no stars, to guide your way. No light.
 Climb up, get in. Be drawn into the night.
 
 (First published in A Dance in the Street)
 
 
 School of Ragtime, Exercise No. 6
 
 Saw you first one April day
           king, queen, sun, moon
 Whistled you outside to play
           right, left, fork, spoon
 
 Took you down to the river’s edge
           penny candy, paper doll
 Showed you bullheads under the ledge
           butterfingers, jackstone ball
 
 Say goodbye to your last dime
           up, down, cat, dog
 Gonna rag that tune this time
           leaf, tree, axe, log
 
 (First published in The Devil's Millhopper) 


Jared Carter’s most recent collection, The Land Itself, is from Monongahela Books in West Virginia. His Darkened Rooms of Summer: New and Selected Poems, with an introduction by Ted Kooser, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2014. A recipient of several literary awards and fellowships, Carter is from the state of Indiana in the U.S.

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Categories
Interview

In Conversation with Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne Kamata is different. She is a mother writing for her children, who are uniquely placed in Japan – products of syncretic lore, an American mother and Japanese father. Recepient of a number of prestigious awards, Kamata represents the best in the mingling of the East and the West. Her writing flows well and is compelling — exploring areas that are often left untouched by more conventional writers.

Kamata has lived in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan, for more than half of her life. She is the author or editor of 14 published books including, most recently, The Spy (Gemma Open Door, 2020), a novella for emerging readers; the middle grade novel Pop Flies, Robo-pets and Other Disasters (One Elm Books, 2020) which won an American Fiction Award and was recently released as an audiobook; and Indigo Girl (GemmaMedia, 2019), winner of an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and named a Freeman Book Awards Honor Book, as well as one of the Best Chidren’s Books of 2019 by Bank Street College. Her work also appears in The Best Asian Travel Writing 2020 (Kitaab, 2020),  The APWT Drunken Boat Anthology of New Writing, What We Didn’t Expect: Personal Stories About Premature Birth ( Melville House Publishing, 2020), Inaka: Portraits of Life in Rural Japan(Camphor Press, 2020), and The Phantom Games (Excalibur Press, 2020). Her adult novel The Baseball Widow is forthcoming in October 2021 from Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing.

When and why did you move to Japan? What made you start writing? At what age did you start writing?

I came to Japan to work as an assistant English teacher on the JET Program in 1988, shortly after I graduated from college. I’d wanted to experience living abroad for a year or two before I began my “real job,” which was not yet determined. I partly wanted to accumulate material for writing future stories and novels. I started writing as a child and never quit. I think my love for writing developed from my early love for reading.

What was your first book and how did it come about?

The first book that I published was actually The Broken Bridge: Fiction by Expatriates in Literary Japan (Stone Bridge Press, 1997) an anthology of short stories by foreigners who lived or were living in Japan. I’d read an article about editing anthologies, and I read several short stories by expatriates in Japan which I felt deserved a wider audience, so I wrote a letter to a publisher that specialised in books about Japan with the idea of a collection. Little did I know, I wasn’t the first person to come up with such an idea, but I was perhaps the most persistent, so even though I was only in my twenties and had only published a couple of short stories in obscure journals, the publisher was willing to give me a shot at it.

What influenced your writing? Books, authors, music? And how?

My writing style is probably most influenced by reading. Early on, I was strongly attracted to the minimalist style of Ann Beattie and I tried to imitate that. Some other influences would be Marguerite Duras, particularly the collage aspect of The Lover, and Lorrie Moore’s dark humor. As far as subject matter goes, I am influenced by confluences of culture, by travel, by motherhood, by my daily life, and sometimes by quirky facts that I come upon.

You have a book called Losing Kei, in which a child born of a mixed marriage is torn by cultural differences and the parent’s inability to adjust to each other’s heritage. It has been compared to Kramer vs Kramer. Why the comparison and do you think it is justified?

Kramer vs. Kramer is about a custody battle, so I can see why my publisher used that comparison. I don’t know of any other novels about in-court custody battles over children of international marriages published at that time, so I think it’s more or less apt. In Losing Kei, the father is granted full custody of the couple’s son, against the mother’s wishes, but the child, Kei, is mostly taken care of by his grandmother. In the movie, the Kramer father is taking care of his son by himself because his wife has deserted them, but then she tries to get her son back.

Having grown up in America, do you actually think of the Japanese culture as ‘repressive’ or ‘xenophobic’ as says author Ellis Avery, author of The Teahouse fire, while commenting on Losing Kei?

Hmm. Things are changing, a bit, but I think that there is still a lot of resistance to foreigners in Japan. During the pandemic, which is on-going as I write, for a time only Japanese nationals were allowed to leave and re-enter the country. If a permanent resident – even someone with a home, job, and family – were to leave Japan during the early part of the pandemic, they weren’t allowed back into the country. Many foreign residents have seen this as discriminatory. Laws have changed, since I first arrived, allowing more foreign workers to come to Japan, but I think a lot of people worry that an influx of people from other countries will change Japan, and not in a good way.

You often write on or for children. Is there a reason for it?

I started writing for children when my own children were small. Being biracial/bicultural and living in Japan – and disabled, in the case of my daughter — their experiences were quite unique and rarely represented in books, so I tried to write a few stories to help fill that gap.

Squeaky Wheels, your immensely moving novel that won the inaugural Half the Globe Literati award (Best novel) in 2016, explores a mother’s travels with a child on a wheelchair. Can you tell us how this book came about?

Thank you so much for your kind words! Although the book won the award for “novel,’ it is actually a memoir of traveling with my daughter. When she was around twelve, she declared that she wanted to go to Paris. At the time, I was working as an adjunct, and we didn’t have a lot of money. So, I came up with the brilliant (ha ha) idea of writing a proposal for a book on traveling with my daughter, who is deaf and uses a wheelchair. It would be, I proposed, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, but in different countries – France, not Italy; Japan, not Indonesia – and it would explore issues of accessibility in each country. I knew that Gilbert had gotten a huge advance to write her book. I also knew of a father of a child with autism who had gotten a million dollars to write a book about taking his son to visit a shaman in Tibet to be cured or whatever. So, I thought that I had a shot. No publisher, however, was willing to give me a contract and an advance to fund our trip, but I had a pretty decent book proposal by then, which I used to apply for a grant. I was extremely fortunate to be awarded a generous grant by the Sustainable Arts Foundation. We went to Paris, and I wrote the book.

Your last novel was Indigo Girl. The Kirkus Review said it was “a lovely sequel that focuses on finding strength in one’s self and maintaining hope when all seems lost.” It was a sequel to Gadget Girl. Tell us a bit about the two books.

A lot of people think that Gadget Girl, the story of the fourteen-year-old daughter of an American mother and Japanese father who has cerebral palsy, is based on my daughter’s actual experiences, but that’s not really true. I started writing the book when my daughter was quite small. I wanted to write a book that she might be able to enjoy as a teen. The main character, Aiko, is an aspiring manga artist, who has grown up as her sculptor mother’s muse. I wrote frequently about my children when they were small, so I imagined what my children might feel about those stories once they hit adolescence. In the first book, Gadget Girl, Aiko travels to Paris with her single mother. In the follow-up, Indigo Girl, which is a stand-alone sequel, Aiko visits rural Japan in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown) to finally connect with her biological father, who is an indigo farmer.

How many books have you authored? Are they all centred around young adults or children? Which one did you enjoy writing the most and why?

I have authored 12 including a picture book, a couple of titles for emergent readers, a short story collection, a memoir, three novels for adults (one forthcoming) and four novels for younger readers, the most recent of which is Pop Flies, Robo-pets and Other Disasters (One Elm Books, 2020). The first two novels that I wrote (but not the first two that I published) were The Mermaids of Lake Michigan (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2017) and Screaming Divas (Simon Pulse, 2014), which were both initially intended to be adult novels, but which concern young adults. When I wrote those books, I was in my late twenties/early thirties, when I felt that I didn’t have enough distance or perspective to write about my adult experiences. And then later, I intentionally wrote for children and young adults. It’s really hard to say which one I enjoyed writing the most, but Squeaky Wheels was fun for me. I loved traveling with my daughter, and I loved reliving those experiences when I was writing and revising the book. And writing nonfiction is a lot easier than writing fiction.

You teach at Naruto University of Education. What is it like to teach students who have been brought up in an entirely different culture from you? How does this experience translate to your own writing?

Japanese students tend to be a bit conservative, so I am always striving to open their minds, and to help them see that being receptive to other cultures and travel can be mind-blowing as it has been for me. I also learn a lot from them, because their upbringing has been so different from mine. One very concrete way in which teaching has affected my writing is that I have started to write stories for emergent readers. I realise that a lot of my books are too difficult for the average Japanese reader of English, but many students are interested in reading my writing. So far, I have written two hi/lo books for the Gemma Open Door series. These books are short, and the level of language is a bit easier.

How has the pandemic affected Japan, you and your work?

Japan hasn’t suffered as greatly as many other nations, perhaps because it is a mask-wearing culture, and also because as soon as news of a break-out aboard the cruise ship the Diamond Princess appeared, people started being cautions. In Tokushima, where I live, there have been fewer than 400 documented cases since the start of the pandemic. Since I haven’t had to travel for conferences, and I have been teaching online, things have been pretty calm and peaceful. Surprisingly, I have written quite a bit. I actually started a new novel!

What are your future plans? Do you have a new novel/books in the offing?

I hope to continue writing and publishing! I have a couple of adult novels – a historical novel, and one set slightly in the future – in progress, as well as a few picture book manuscripts that I have been tinkering with. In October of this year, my adult novel The Baseball Widow, will be published by Wyatt-Mackenzie. I started writing it shortly after I finished Losing Kei, but I abandoned it a few times. Anyway, I am happy to announce that it will finally make it into print! It’s a family drama about an international/interracial marriage in crisis told from multiple points of view. I hope you will enjoy it!

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This has been an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.

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Categories
Poetry

Departure

By Viplob Pratik

.

A table on the corner of a restaurant.

.

Half smoked cigarette is caught in my fingers

You are there; I am,

Face to face.

.

I am telling something but mute

You are listening to me, but without any attention.

.

The glasses of wine are recently backed in their position

And after we took the first sip,

One glass has a smear of lipstick on it

Another has on its outer part

A mark of wine drop.

.

While trying to take another sip

Something weird happens

And the glass slips

Hops in the air

And crashes on the floor.

.

Clink!

.

What’s broken –- a glass or the heart?

Both are fragile.

.

People look at us

And again become busy with them.

.

The waiter is cleaning the floor.

Love has broken in our heart too,

.

But there is no waiter for us.

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Viplob Pratik was born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal. He loves to travel, and has learned from other cultures and societies. He draws inspirations from everyday life. His thoughts are compact, and he is deeply sensitive to human values. His poetry collection ‘Nahareko Manchhe’ (translates to ‘The Undefeated Man’) and ‘A person kissed by the moon’ was published in 2005 and 2013 respectively and his debut novel ‘Abijit’ (the unconquered) was published in 2017.

~Bhim Karki 
Frisco, Texas

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Categories
Poetry

The Colour of Wind’s Song

By Linda Imbler

The Colour Of Wind’s Song

I must go with the wind’s song.

My feet bearing glad witness

to your many creeds.

Inside a maddening maze,

as day is done,

I follow the words on each page

that tell me how to sculpt my dreams.

Long standing upon stone,

upon hearts, jubilant,

upon the sky that is deep, dark blue,

upon vibrant moonshine

where all is amber and red,

I go to hear the colours

and feel exhilaration.

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How Do I Dream?

I gazed with wonder and delight

as the fall of monsters shook the Earth,

and effervescent spirits

became balanced between nowhere and now.

I forgave the winds,

and the Undines,

those elemental beings of water,

those paper tigers.

I walked through a door

of many colours.

Its soft archway still and grand,

and saw novel birds atop golden branches.

I saw a fly within its webbed cell.

On the ground, lay hatched fragile shells

but, no hatchlings were near.

A silent coil of that forgiven wind

lifted my hair ever so gently.

A clear horn blew from atop a shut temple,

and all the caves began to sing.

Within the heart of their song,

they said to me,

“Carry all the love you have collected,

and spread it on the fields of tomorrow.”

And, I slept within a sparrow’s nest

as the night light died,

and all heavenly visions were seen,

I, me, mine.

.

Within The Din

His soul heard no welcome,

only murmurs.

It seemed he heard sweet singing.

The hope that he was right

stayed his sorrow.

His bedimmed dreams

came as angels.

As death became his friend,

he saw his own grace,

and all of sweet peace

wailed for him.

And within the din, welcome showed its hand.

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Linda Imbler is the author of four poetry collections published at Amazon.  Soma Publishing published two of her poetry books and one poetry-short fiction hybrid.  She began writing in earnest five years ago.  In addition to putting pen and paper to inventive use, Linda is an avid reader. This writer, yoga practitioner, and classical guitar player lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband, Mike the Luthier, several quite intelligent saltwater fish, and an ever-growing family of gorgeous guitars.  She’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and several Best of the Net awards. Learn more at lindaspoetryblog.blogspot.com.

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Categories
Poetry

Birth of an Ally

Smoke and Fire by Alia Kamal

By Tamoha Siddiqui

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Yesterday I heard the sound of colourful feet

to Indonesian beats, in the middle of Michigan:

white, black, brown, all were one

pitter-patter paces in a conference hall.

.

You thought I wasn’t looking, but I was.

You were smiling a late November sun

stubborn in joy, fresh in giving;

a horizon broadening in deepening twilight.

.

Your grey hairs picked up the song, 

The music bent down for a kiss.

Immigrant spices dissolved

ladling a new tone on your tongue

As you threw up your pink arms

And danced.

.

Somewhere, your soul alighted;

Moonlight on a tulip,

Wind on the sand dunes,

Mellow in a melting of colours,

You danced.

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Tamoha Siddiqui is a teacher-researcher and poet from Bangladesh. She’s a Fulbright awardee currently housed at Michigan State University as a graduate student.  In 2018, Tamoha founded a bilingual poetry collective in Dhaka, working as a performer, organizer, and facilitator of local poetry shows and workshops. Furthermore, she debuted as a performance poetry artist in America in 2019 through events hosted by the The Poetry Room, Michigan. Her work has been highlighted in a number of Bangladeshi newspapers and anthologies.

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Categories
Essay

COVID-19 and The New York Times as an Ideological Gatekeeper

By Gary Olson

“Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets.”

— Karl Marx

I’ve been negligent in failing to acknowledge my gratitude to op-ed writers at the New York Times for their frequent doses of insidious misinformation which demand disassembling and refutation. They didn’t disappoint on May 5, 2020. In the lead op-ed, “Will We Get Used to the Dying?”, Editor-at-Large Charlie Warzal expresses his gut-wrenching feeling that Americans are already beginning to adapt to Covid-19’s deadly consequences. After informing readers that the Federal government has ordered an extra 100,000 body bags and that a reliable computer model projects 3,000 deaths per day in early June, Warzal suggests that most Americans are likely to “simply carry on with their lives” and finds parallels with the indifference now shown toward mass shootings across the country.

Warzal goes on to offer a detailed and accurate laundry list of Trump’s sins of commission and omission on Covid-19. He blames American citizens for their childlike notions of personal freedom “where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others becomes the chains of tyranny…where the idea of freedom is also an excuse to serve one’s self before others and as a shield to hide from responsibilities.” He concludes — rightly I think — that “this kind of freedom has a price that will be calculated and then set by a select few. The rest of us merely pay it.” Setting aside the fact that Mr. Warzal opines from his laptop in Missoula, Montana and in all likelihood will not be one of those “paying the ultimate price”, what else can we learn from this article?

What we see here is an honest explication of horrific symptoms but a troubling, almost “blame the victim” explanation in lieu of addressing the actual cause of the problem. First, the narrow notions of “freedom” that Warzal skewers didn’t arise out of thin air but have been carefully cultivated. This rapacious system logic overtook the nation in the post-Reconstruction era of the Gilded Age and has remarinated the world of business and finance since the time of Thatcher and Reagan. Today the muting of empathic impulses is almost complete as the “common interest” is subjugated to the cultural construction of selves based entirely on market values. Even morals have been deregulated.

The “freedom” Warzal cites but fails to connect to the larger system is only the freedom to pursue economic self-interest as a hyper-competitive, perpetual consumer. As Noam Chomsky has asserted, “[T]he very idea that we’re in it together, that we care about one each other, that we have a responsibility to one another, that’s sort of frightening to those people who want a society which is dominated by power, authority, wealth, in which people are passive and obedient.” Or, as the famed primate scientist Frans de Waal succinctly puts it, “You need to indoctrinate empathy out of people to arrive at extreme capitalist positions.” The United States is not unique in this regard but the extreme difference in degree almost makes it a difference in kind.

Second, what we see in Warzal’s piece is the ideological demarcation line which can never be crossed by journalists who aspire to reaching the profession’s elite echelons. In this case, he leaves the impression that Trump and a “select few” others made the decisions about opening up the country but in fact it’s an entire class of people. who, paradoxically, also don’t have a choice of sending a certain percentage of workers to needless death. Wall Street and the politicians who serve it are compelled to take this action under the ineluctable logic of ceaseless capitalist growth and profit-making — or watch their system totally collapse. This is the dirty truth that can never rise to the level conscious thought much less ever be uttered.

Third, in perusing the online Comments section (1,085 and now closed) we find an entirely predictable response that’s confined to debating gun control and trashing Trump. The latter attribute our problems to Trump’s ego and personal ambition. A tiny fraction condemns Americans for the selfishness but if there’s a single comment that raised any deeper questions, I missed it.

Now, lest I be misunderstood, I’m not suggesting the Times’ editorial board gathers around a virtual table like a coven of diabolical conspirators and conjures up creative narratives to deceive the paper’s readers. Quite the contrary is the case. They are enablers for a class of individuals who behave according to system which has an inherent dynamic: expand or perish. As such, these cultural coordinators for the powerful, take on beliefs that are deeply entrenched and congruent with their perception of journalistic integrity and the responsibilities accompanying it.

Advancing views of elite interests is a prerequisite to attaining and retaining these positions. And there’s an enormously satisfying symmetry between their beliefs and their self interest. Their role of frontline, ideological gate keepers affords them substantial economic rewards, privileged lifestyles and immense status among their peers. And just to be clear, these folks are sharing their genuine convictions. Psychologists tell us that people experience cognitive dissonance from lying repeatedly so they come to believe what they’re writing and saying. They don’t lose sleep over it and it’s safe to describe their behavior as psychopathic.

Gary Olson is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. His most recent book is EMPATHY IMPERILED: Capitalism, Culture and the Brain (New York: Springer Publishing, 2012). Contact: olsong@moravian.edu.

First published in Countercurrents.org

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Musings

Notes from Singapore: Ordinary inspirations

By Ranjani Rao

“Walking is a pastime rather than an avocation.” Rebecca Solnit

In the weeks since social distancing measures were imposed and circuit breaker measures implemented in Singapore, despite having more time on my hands, my writing output has decreased. Have I been afflicted by the dreaded writer’s block?

By working from home, I save almost two hours of commute time every day. Instead of writing more, I find myself in a slump. Is my well of inspiration drying up?

Topics to write (mostly Covid-19 related) still buzz around in my head but I am surprised to discover just how much I depended on the world outside my home to stimulate not just my senses, but also to rouse my muse.

Unexpected encounters on the train, surprising conversations with colleagues at work, casual lunches with friends, all served as triggers for ideas, inspirations, and epiphanies. Without these avenues to spur creativity, I fret about wasting these precious extra hours that have landed into my packed schedule like a much-needed gift.

All that is left of my pre-pandemic life is the ability to step out of my home for a walk, as long as I wear a mask, walk alone, and avoid crowding. Not a bad idea, since walking is my favorite ‘sport’.

Walking has been my savior for as long as I can remember. Walking has rescued me, given me a respite from life, and a reason to continue with it. It has served as an exercise to maintain physical health, a mindful pause to collect myself emotionally, and as a conduit to receive guidance in turbulent times.

The wonder years

As lanky teenage girls, my friend and I walked hand in hand, two pairs of braids swinging around our shoulders, wearing similar if not identical clothes through busy Bombay streets. Some evenings we walked to the temple, on others we did some errands, or stopped for spicy street food when we had money.

Traffic fumes engulfed us as we navigated streets crowded with vendors pushing cartloads of bananas, people queuing up at bus stops, and beggars lining the pavements. We talked as we walked, trying to make sense of growing up, and understand the world of adults while we contemplated our future. We didn’t know then that she would get married young but remain childless, a lingering regret that she is yet to come to terms with. Neither could we have predicted the marital troubles that would plague me for several years before I took action.

Working mother

As a young working woman, I resumed walking in California during my lunch hour. Stuck in a laboratory all day, mothering a baby in the evenings, and catching up on housework on weekends left few options for exercise. I strolled around the one-mile periphery of the triangular campus in the mild sunshine. A gentle breeze blew around my face as I walked in my comfy Easy Spirit pumps, taking in the pleasant greenery of the beautiful site. Walking helped my body lose some of the pregnancy weight and enabled me to make peace with my decision to be a working mother without letting debilitating mommy guilt weigh me down.

It was an era before cell phones became appendages. Getting away from your desk meant truly stepping away from co-workers, computers, and chores. I made a new friend one afternoon, a young woman who had arrived from China. She seemed excited but bewildered by the world around her. Her lack of fluency in English was no barrier to our connection. We spoke about important things, matters that were hard to articulate to others but easier to say aloud to a relative stranger albeit one you met regularly.

An unexpected life trajectory

The terrace of the duplex house in Hyderabad that I moved into when my child was eight served as my walking track for several years. The large L-shaped structure overlooked a frangipani tree in the front yard. Although too big for just the two of us, the spacious house with a private gate shielded me from inquisitive neighbors and well-intentioned strangers curious about my life.

The moon would hang low on some nights, yellow and heavy with promises of better days. On dark moonless nights that reflected my somber mood, I wondered about the string of circumstances that had now made me a single parent. Managing a full-time job and holding complete responsibility for a growing child were clearly not compatible. Nightly walks along the edges of the small terrace gave me clarity and confidence that I could leave my job and still maintain financial independence. It would mean reconfiguring the career path I had planned, but in the long run, it would enable me to create a more balanced work life.

Lockdown blues

These days, instead of a nightly walk after dinner, I sometimes take another one after lunch, especially if the sky is overcast, or if it has just rained. The gently sloping street is lined with condos, many among them bearing some variation of the word ‘hill’ in its name. Not surprising, since I have a clear view of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from my balcony. 

Each condo has a personality that is not as evident at night. Used to the seasonal lights that adorn the entryways, each condo trying to outdo the other for every major festival, I now observe subtle differences that I had not previously noticed.

One has an impressive two-level waterfall at the entrance that pours into a pool where koi fish and small turtles swim. A newly-constructed condo has terraced spaces in its outer walls where flowering plants bloom. From the opposite side of the road, they look like tulips, reminding me of a missed opportunity for a trip to Keukenhof, Netherlands for the spring tulip season.

The cemented court, a short distance from the community center that served as a gathering point for the gardening club as well as the tai chi class, is taped off. A lone collared kingfisher sits atop a light pole. Mynas chirp loudly and assemble on a small flowering tree and gobble all the seeds that are yet to flower before rushing off to their next halt.

Joys of walking

As we navigate these unprecedented days of the pandemic, I am grateful that I have the freedom to walk. Much more than mere exercise, walking is my moving meditation. Now walking is my catalyst for creativity. 

Through walking, I have once again learnt to zoom in on the things closest to me, the ones with the most significance. I am hyper-aware that time, like breath, simply slips away if we don’t give it our attention.

Even though the days seem interminable, sooner or later, life will return to normal. Before that happens, I want to make sure I observe and imprint the beauty of these ordinary days, and savor the pleasure found in simple activities like walking,

In the words of John Burroughs –

“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”

.

.

Ranjani Rao, a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, and former resident of USA, now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir.  Check out her writing at her website www.ranjanirao.com and receive a free ebook. Connect with her at Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Categories
Poetry

The Birds in These Strange Times and more…

By Matthew James Friday

The Birds in These Strange Times
A pair of kites have come for the lake
now the airport is closed, buoyed by empty 
skies, rustling wooded hills, lacey waters.

My wife shows me trees on the lake’s
whispering edge where cormorants gather,
roosting in the trees like paused pterodactyls. 

An adult swallow giddy with its suddenes,
rolling in the early April air, the very first
migrant recoiled by a changed climate.









Back to Blue
Imprisoned in caution,
the cases rising, fear abundant,
school closed, classes cancelled.
All online now. I watch
a documentary about Miles Davis.

I have always struggled with Jazz,
berated the lack of melody,
felt lost amongst the jostling notes.
But following his story, the craft
from the chaos, the passion in tone

I choose to try again. Back to Blue
starts, and notes sound as alarming
as the online coverage but the jingling 
chords, the blasts of trumpet suddenly 
sounds peace while the world tears. 



Balance

From the balcony I watch a cat
watching a squirrel leaping
from one tree to another, change
its mind, return and scuttle
up and down branches, a slither
of fast fur perfectly balanced,
death either side of sure claws.
The squatting cat tilts its head
as the squirrel becomes branch,
then pads off to draw its own line.

In Rooms, Therefore We Are

The rooms we build define us, shape us, create and consume us.

To function as a modern human is to be in a room: offices, classrooms, waiting rooms, shops, bedrooms, gardens, cafés, libraries, trains, airplanes, theatres, cinemas and stadiums.

Alone or confessing, on holiday, marrying, working or transgressing. Watching or waiting, dancing, defecating or contemplating.

Our own heads are a skeletal room we stare out of; thoughts, ideas and words bouncing around the bony walls. Billions pray to be safely ushered into the everlasting room beyond these rooms, to be reunited with those who were once in our rooms.

The number of rooms make all the difference between a slum resident and a billionaire, freedom and imprisonment; rooms that can be built from waste material or secreted into yachts; rooms that only the most valiant warriors can ascend to while others descend to the deepest unreachable rooms.

To feel free, we leap over the walls to the open, roomless countryside, though we return to rooms at night or make them using tents. We stare deeply and longingly into the blinking night sky, wondering if there are rooms on other planets like our planet, which is one giant, spinning room, moving through an ever-expanding room.

Even the atom itself is a kind of theoretical room, built mainly of nothing, of potentially something through which hums the moments of energy that we use to build up all the matter around us.

         Perhaps we love rooms because that is where we began, in our mother’s warm interior room; safe from everything outside and other. Perhaps it is the safety of this dark, nourishing room that is the shadow between every room thereafter.

As children we build pretend rooms, hide in them from the monsters that sneak into our rooms, that lurk in their own dark spaces in the corners.

As adults we spend days rushing in and out rooms. Now, confined to our rooms in fear of that which knows no walls, we are more thankful than ever for the walls. We stare at each other from balconies and buildings, all afraid in our rooms and wondering when the doors will open again.


Matthew James Friday has had poems published in numerous international magazines and journals, including, recently: All the Sins (UK), The Blue Nib (Ireland), Acta Victoriana (Canada), and Into the Void (Canada). The mini-chapbooks All the Ways to Love, Waters of Oregon and The Words Unsaid were published by the Origami Poems Project (USA).
Website:      http://matthewfriday.weebly.com

Categories
Poetry

Elmhurst, O Elmhurst

By Melissa A. Chappell

(Elmhurst, the only public hospital in New York City was founded to serve the poor in 1832. It serves Western Queens County.)


Elmhurst, O Elmhurst,
I did not know you in your mothering shift
of glass and mortar.
 
I ticked off your name in my mind
as you caught my ear on the morning radio:
“Elmhurst.”
 
This, as I authored my own survival.
 
Perhaps I may be one of the remnant.
 
Perhaps this wasting bane
may steal away on some wing
of the breeze.
 
But, no, Corona prefers to steal the air
from the ravaged world;
 
so that one day I saw on my 52 in. screen,
Elmhurst,
with an almost snake like refrigerated truck,
parked outside its venerable walls,
the vile work of Corona
unmasked,
by the shining light of day;
 
so that, the wretched of God gathered at the hem
of her weeping garments.
 
The poor and the dead,
thronging around her.
 
She has mothered them for generations,
now they lie dead in the emergency room,
with none to kiss their brow.
 
She weeps over those who have waited so long
to shelter within her.
 
Yet she rejoices in those who leave her,
walking from her doors.
 
Elmhurst, O Elmhurst, I did not know you
in your mothering shift
of glass and mortar.
 
Yet now, now, I catch the genesis
of the most improbable invitation
on a wind that comes
out of the surly darkness:
“Breathe, breathe.
I will keep your going out
and your coming in.”
 
This, for the poor who gather around
the shabby fringes of the earth.
 
This, for you, O Elmhurst,
form this time on,
and forevermore.

Melissa A. Chappell is a native of South Carolina, USA. She contentedly resides on land that has been in her family for over 130 years. She has a BA in the Theory of Music and a Master of Divinity degree. Besides writing, she plays several instruments, including the lute. Music and the land are her primary inspirations for her poetry. She has had two chapbooks published: Rivers and Relics (Desert Willow Press)