Because my words drip with arzoo as much as longing.
Because the ocean is full of tanhayee as much as thirst.
Because the heart’s drum insists on beating, in this language, in that language, in the quiver of wind, in the heat of destination, in the certainty of journey, the uncertainty of migration.
In our circles, love poems have gone out of fashion. Being a feminist has gone out of fashion. Beckoning justice has gone out of fashion. Having faith, believing in something has gone out of fashion.
This world so large, our hands so small. What changes can we mortals make? What yearnings can we transform even to partial satiation? The coal of this earth is yet coal. And yet, somewhere the revolutionary, the housewife, the poet sees carat in coal, sparkle in surrender.
These days it is easy to believe love – especially the writing of love poems – has very little place in our post-modern, post-colonial, post-structural, post-secular, post-financial collapse, post-nation-state, post-cynical, post-poetic world.
We reside in irony. Which is to say, we do not reside at all. We only travel and trade in ambivalences.
Having been one who has journeyed – from India to the U.S.; from the U.S. South to the U.S. Midwest to the U.S. Cosmopolitan Capital – I find my home in poetry that speaks to the troubled questions and injustices of the world through a language which, I hope, evokes beauty, love, consanguinity, and feeling.
I do have poems that speak to domestic violence, female feticide, unbending gender roles, the labor of immigrants, being South Asian in a post-9/11 world, being South Asian in a pre-9/11 world: in sum, a world’s convexed inequities. From what I have witnessed, these poems often leave readers or listeners stunned, immobile, in grief, pensive, outraged.
It is my love poems, though, which I believe often leave my readers and listeners realizing that they have re-discovered a quiet part of themselves, as if they had found a dusty photo album from youth, shook off the present, and surrendered to the urge to dream, the quest to believe, the desire to hold and to be powerful. In short, the longing to love and be loved.
Perhaps it is Bollywood of me, or Dickinsonian of me, or Whitmanian of me, but in this longing, I find joy. I find justice. I find home. And together with my audience, in this longing shared, a conversation, a living with, a keeping company with, a vision
of the world as
it, the world
as we dare
to dream it, a world
as we seek
to live it.
We could listen to the way flowers
open like thunder, the bold unfurling
to begin, the spreading, a drum
scatter, the wet wash.
As much as your hands, thoughts
make me tremble. You banish
the light because you want
me to come to bed. Images
of fields, opening
like an accordion, sweet sonnets
of wheat, I am dreaming, not just
of you or the tight warmth
of your fingers when the hand turns
around body, but also of harvesting, bending
a back to retrieve the tall
fruits of rain and soil. I reach
my favorite spatch
of skin, the nexus
of hip and waist, the curve
an ellipsis, like a song on its way
to higher notes. The window open
and beyond the city grime, the smell
of soil waiting
to be overturned, and seeded,
a body to be explored.
(from Terrain Tracks, New Rivers Press 2006)
Purvi Shah’s debut volume of poetry, Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which explores migration as potential and loss, won the Many Voices Project prize and was nominated for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award in 2007. She is preoccupied with the many facets of love, including its temporality and mathematics, concepts she explores in her current poetry project, Love Time(s).
Shah, who holds an MA in American Literature from Rutgers University, is a former poetry editor of the Asian Pacific American Journal and the recipient of a Virginia Voss Poetry Award from the University of Michigan. Born in Ahmedabad, India, Shah lives in New York City, where she recently served for seven and a half years as the executive director at Sakhi for South Asian Women, a community-based anti-domestic violence organization. She is currently consulting on the issue of violence against women and working toward a second collection of poetry.
Shah’s poetic lineage stems from the seeds of inspiration of her family and friends and the world around her. During college, she came to brew poetry through a shared exploration with poets Gabrielle Civil and Julia Cole while taking workshops with Thylias Moss, Marge Piercy, and J. Allyn Rosser. Through the Kundiman poetry retreat, a necessary community bloomed: she interfaced with Marilyn Chin, Sarah Gambito, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and the wide and deep Kundiman community of women poets, sojourners, and truth-seekers.
Photo by Willi Wong.