Tishani Doshi’s latest poetry collection A God at the Door spans time and space, drawing on the minutiae of nature and humanity to elevate the marginalised. Taken together, playfully eclectic in form and metre, the poems traverse history, from the cosmic to the quotidian, taking inspiration from the world at large to bestow power on the powerless, deploy beauty to heal trauma, and enable the voices of the oppressed to be heard with piercing clarity.

 

Tigress Hugs Manchurian Fir

This
far north
the sun rises
and sinks in the
same spot. Insects
announce the apocalypse
and fog moves through all
the uncountable hours like a
bright gray scar. The forest is
awash in a dial of light more
luminiferous than a Canaletto. I
misuse the words forest, woodland,
jungle because I have never walked
alone through forest, woodland, jungle.
I say Canaletto because I long to be in a
place of light different from this place of light.
The days are bleak and I’ve forgotten how to dress.
I don’t believe you need to wear a loincloth to prove
your sincerity, or know how to sow your own lederhosen.
I begin my diaries with Chipko means to hug in Hindi.
And even though I know the history of the ecofeminist
embrace is fierce, not cute, it helps me understand the gap
between my life and the denuded hillside. There are remote
places in the world – Garhwal, Siberia – where trees are extracted
like teeth to make way for the king’s summer palace, for a sporting
goods company. With this new virus, hugging has been outlawed, so the
picture of you dear tigress, has sustained me more than a triple-glazed room
in Yakutsk. If I had been sent to collect spring water and found myself in a desert,
I too would want to lie down in a pile of broken glass just to feel a piece
of my lung. We are asked to leave things to chance, but if the future
is really a slaughterhouse, then why not stake our territory?
Imagine saying to the tree: I’m cold and alone
and I need this small fire to burn.
Imagine the tree replying:
Come seedling, let’s dance.

 

 

This May Reach You Either as a Bird or Flower
(for Varavara Rao)

Sooner or later we must return
to the rooms from which we emerged.
The earth of your childhood is the earth
of mine, even though it may seem we live in
two different countries. You are a dangerous
poet in yours. I am trying to be one. In every
republic there will be some who walk down to
the water with life vests and bread, while others
lead soldiers to trapdoors in the cellar. You stand
at the edge, beating a drum. They say you’ve been
standing there sixty years, drumming, drumming.
Sir – are you warm? Are the crows bringing you the
latest terrible news? The mobs haul bodies from beyond
the campfires with leaves tacked to their eyes and throats
filled with dust. You should know there’s been a breach. The
curtain is not made of iron. The offspring of your arrests have
formed their own political party in prison and are spreading
rebellious thoughts like a virus refreshed after a summer rest.
We must consolidate while there’s oxygen left. A day will
come when we are gathered in a courtyard for a historic
photo, and asked to denounce the pawns, the black and
white squares, the horses and rooks. Everyone but
the crooks. It will no longer be possible to say
your homeland is not my homeland
because it doesn’t speak English.
The languages we love will be
thrown in a ditch. A country
forgets how many countries
it’s been. Nothing is gentle
about memory. The sky
speaks in howl, grass
whispers back. We
are already on
our knees.
What else
can we
do but
resist?

 

Notes:

‘Tigress Hugs Manchurian Fir’
This poem is in response to Sergey Gorshkov’s remarkable photograph of an Amur tigress hugging an ancient Manchurian fir. He left a hidden camera in a Russian forest for eleven months before capturing this image, which won Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2020.
nhm.ac.uk/wpy/gallery/2020-the-embrace

‘This May Reach You Either as Bird or Flower’
This poem was written for the 81-year-old Indian political poet and activist Varavara Rao who has been imprisoned since 2018 under the controversial Unlawful Prevention Activities Act (UAPA), which empowers the state to search and arrest any people suspected of supporting terrorist acts or unlawful activities without a warrant. Mr Rao’s family petitioned for his release after he fell critically ill in prison during the Covid pandemic. Bail was denied five times. In November 2020, the Bombay High Court allowed shifting the poet to a local hospital for medical examinations. The title of my poem is a line from Varavara Rao’s poem ‘Unburdening Song’, translated from the Telegu by D. Venkat Rao.
BBC News: Varavara Rao granted temporary bail

© Tishani Doshi, 2021, used by permission of The Wylie Agency (UK) Limited

Cover artwork: Avatars of Devi, Zenana, Samode Palace, Samode by Karen Knorr

 

Tishani Doshi is an award-winning poet and dancer of Welsh-Gujarati descent. She was born in Madras in 1975. She received her masters in writing from Johns Hopkins University in America and worked in London in advertising before returning to India in 2001 to work with the choreographer Chandralekha, with whom she performed on many international stages. She won an Eric Gregory Award for her poetry in 2001. In 2006, she won the All-India Poetry Competition, and her debut collection, Countries of the Body (Aark Arts), won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her first novel, The Pleasure Seekers (Bloomsbury, 2010), was longlisted for the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the Hindu Literary Award, and has been translated into several languages. Her second poetry collection, Everything Begins Elsewhere, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2012; and her third collection, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods (Bloodaxe Books, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry 2018 in the UK, and for the poetry category of the 2019 Firecracker Awards in the US. Her second novel, Small Days and Nights (Bloomsbury, 2019), was shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. Tishani lives on a beach between two fishing villages in Tamil Nadu with her husband and dogs, and is currently Visiting Associate Professor of Practice, Literature and Creative Writing at New York University, Abu Dhabi. A God at the Door is out now from Bloodaxe Books.
Read more
tishanidoshi.com
@tishanidoshi
@BloodaxeBooks

Author portrait © Adil Hasan

 

Tuesday 20 April
Launch readings by Tishani Doshi, Dom Bury and Jenna Clake
7pm
Free

International launch readings and conversation with the three poets to celebrate the publication of their new collections Rite of Passage, Museum of Ice Cream and A God at the Door. Hosted by editor Neil Astley, this event was streamed on YouTube Live through the Bloodaxe Books YouTube channel.
Watch on replay

 

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