Category Archives: Her Skin Phyllo-Thin

My thoughts on Immigration

I’ve decided to post what I call my immigrant poem here. It was first published in the Cortland Review and subsequently in my poetry chapbook, Her Skin, Phyllothin.  Given the political climate of our country, I thought my readers might enjoy it.

Poetry is meant to be heard, so please listen to me read it here: http://www.cortlandreview.com/issue/59/noronha.php

Here is the text.

Forty Years Later: What I know

Let me say this about immigrants

who burrow through the earth

to swim in rivers whose names they lisp,

Mississippi, Missouri—so many esses, hisses, misses,

the Grand Canyon they fly over with paper wings.

I love the way they step off a plane or boat into a silky twilight

towing belongings—prayer beads, bamboo flutes, jute bags—

scraps of this and that, passports and photographs,

leaving behind scorched chimneys, banana leaves,

monkeys hanging by their feet from trees.

But here is what they do not say—

We will never be whole again.

We cannot, in truth, uproot.

We will grow fins, wings, scales, tails, water-colored third eyes.

We will use our arms as legs, heels as fists, bellies and backs as floats.

We will fill our mouths with ash.

We will chill our teeth

drink the acrid wine of separation

and sleep through occasions—birth, death, days between—

for this one chance to awaken

grateful, still surprised.

 

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Shopping for a Name — Raising Our Voices: Womyn Out Loud.

Shopping for a Name — Raising Our Voices: Womyn Out Loud.

I’m not senile—at least, not yet— so let me say I know how Women is spelled  🙂 towson times-4

This is the name of a new group of diverse women who want to —yes— draw attention to ourselves—by hosting literary and musical celebrations of women artists. We want to “bridge the cultural and racial divide” and celebrate diversity through Words and Song.

Here is what I wrote on our group’s website http://ow.ly/4nh1Yf  when we went shopping for a name for ourselves.

“We, women with roots in Palestine, Africa, Italy and India, decided to band together and host a literary reading. Wondering what to call ourselves, we went shopping for a name.

We tried on a lot of outfits. We considered adding pleats, lace, the_dance_of_the_peacock_thumbtaking the hem up, lowering it. Nothing seemed perfect. When this six word outfit was chosen, I stared at it. Wasn’t the front and back the same? Why repeat the pattern? We voted; I lost.

At last, after years of being silenced, women are rising up against poverty, abuse, injustice and inequality at every level. As a result we are, at best, 5000 miles up Mt. Everest with 14,000 more to go.

And in many countries women are sitting at the base of the mountain, their mouths stuffed with words they are choking on, words they are not allowed to speak.

And then it hit me! Raising our voices isn’t enough! We must get loud. Louder. And still be lady-women lest we be dismissed as unprofessional, lest we taste like sour grapes, lest the respect we worked so hard to earn be swallowed like “a python takes a rat, head first.” (a line from my poem, The Python, Apprentice House, in press.)clip_image001_001

There are always reasons for gender inequality. Very good reasons, some would say. Ultimately women must create, carry and birth human kind. How can they be equally productive in the marketplace? This, to me, is the mother of all ironies. And now that the market place is global, such issues have escalated.

Legal or illegal, there’s always a bruhaha about immigrants. Without Senator Fulbright’s vision of establishing travel grants, I would not and could not ever be here. My hair would have turned gray before I could save airfare to the land of milk and honey.

Not a day goes by without gratitude for my home, the one I chose. And yet my bones ache for the one I left behind.
Here’s an excerpt from my poem in Her Skin Phyllo-thin, Finishing Line Press.

Forty Years Later: What I know.

 Let me say this about immigrants
who burrow through the earth,
to swim in rivers whose names they lisp,
Mississippi, Missouri—so many esses, hisses, misses,
the Grand Canyon they fly over with paper wings….
I love the way they step off a plane or boat into a silky twilight
towing belongings—prayer beads, bamboo flutes, jute bags….

Come listen to the rest of this poem and others that I’ll  read on May 15th, 2016 at The Impact Hub, 10 East North Ave, Baltimore, at 2 p.m. Come listen to an amazing group of writers. Come raise your voices with us.

I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of our group, so the pics are all about me and me, and my books.

 

Where is Home?

20151126_025621Although I returned from home #1 (India) some 7 weeks ago, I have only recently begun to feel settled in home #2 (my much-loved city, Baltimore, USA.) This time the trip felt longer and far, far more tiring, which makes little sense since I last went there just 2 ½ years ago. Perhaps, there’s been a speedy continental drift, I told myself, and home #1 had floated further into the Pacific Ocean.

And then it occurred to me. Get real, I told myself. You’re older! Travel takes a toll.

But isn’t age just a number? I’ve heard that so often it’s almost a cliché. In any event, I googled the saying and found a zillion. I chose three to contemplate upon.

Age is just a number and young is an attitude.

Age is just a number. It should never hinder you from accomplishing your goals.

Age is just a number and weed is just a plant.

Well yes, over these many weeks, I’ve amassed plenty of attitude that has not hindered me from being asleep or half asleep both day and night, if that was my goal.

And of course, I know weed is a plant! After all, I have a B.Sc. in Botany for heaven’s sake, which should count for something! My father, a botanist, used to say a weed is a plant that grows where it’s not welcome. If a rose grew in a cornfield, it would be a weed, he would say. Little did my father know that weed also grows where it is warmly welcomed.

With that out-of-the-way, let me write about one of my best friends in India. I visit him whenever I go home. If you’ve read “How Far Away is Far Away?” (scroll down) you’ve met him too. He had travelled to the far end of the street and now he was back “home” tucked in his little shop at the corner where he has worked since I was a teenager.20151126_025621

I was delighted and relieved to see him. As always, I’d taken all my sandals that needed repair to India so my mochi could work his magic. They are too beautiful and unique to discard. I buy them from roadside vendors, who may be here today and gone tomorrow. So, my sandals are irreplaceable. Shoe repair in America essentially involves glue, whereas my mochi sews right through the leather, stitch by stitch, using his coarse well-worn hands and a long, thick needle. No machines, no glue. He uses his feet as a clamp. In fact, whenever I buy pretty sandals in India, he fortifies them for me even though they are brand new. Only then do they nestle in my suitcase en route to America.

I was with my brother when I met him this time. As usual his head 20151126_025946was bent, working, while people walked around him on the side-walk. When he looked up, I smiled and asked him if he remembered me. And his eyes just lit up! He smiled his warm toothless smile, nodded, and simply said “Hahn ji” (Hahn means yes. Ji is a form of respect as in Gandhiji.) Then he said in Hindi, “So many days, you didn’t come.”

I was deeply moved. I didn’t expect this old man, who sees hundreds of people walk by everyday to remember me. My brother, who is also his customer, was equally shocked at his memory.

“I didn’t know you were brother and sister,” our mochi said.

There is a Hindi proverb that says, “the heart at rest sees a feast in everything.”  Over the five years that I lived in Bombay before making the U.S. my home #2, and all the years thereafter whenever I returned to India for brief visits, this poor gentle man, who works everyday as if it’s his first day, has been an inspiring example of what life is truly about. He has given me many fold more than I could ever pay him for repairing my shoes. He is as faithful as the sun and the moon. In this transient fickle world he has been a rock! My family aside, he is what home #1 means to me. And why I must keep returning, no matter how far India drifts away.

Below is a poem entitled “From Bombay to Baltimore” taken from my book, Her Skin Phyllo-thin.

FROM BOMBAY TO BALTIMORE

                                  

The Arabian Sea still flecks with fishing boats

like paper toys my father taught me to fold

and float in streams behind our home.

 

My plane, a silver scythe knows no ache,

splices clouds in half like cotton scarves,

shreds and tosses wispy threads afar.

 

Dim one-bulb huts recede, pinpoints of fire flies,

five star hotels shrink to match-box size,

coconut fronds to dainty fans.

 

This time, my heart, quiet and stilled,

leaves behind a billion people, maybe more,

who say their destinies are written on their foreheads.

 

And still I search between continents,

between sky and sky,

between then and now

 

for home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A poignant Mother’s Day

I have been an absentee blogger for almost two years–ever since I left New Zealand. Much has happened since then. I went to India for a couple of months (more about that later,) returned to the US for my son’s wedding, became a first-time grandmother, got a chapbook of poetry published (Finishing Line Press) and re-wrote the novel I’d been working on in New Zealand.

This blog is about my poetry chapbook–appropriate for Mother’s Day. The title of this work, Her Skin Phyllo-Thin is a line taken from a poem entitled “Sponge Bath.”

My mother first came to America at the age of 59 to take care of her first grandchild, the one who just gave me my first grand child. She was 86 when she died in India. As she grew older, the distance between our two countries grew too, especially after she had a stroke on the heels of her last flight from the US back home to India. Flight times between Bombay and Baltimore range from a minimum of 18-22 hours depending on the route and stop-overs. My mother was 83 when she came to America for the last time. She was the family historian; her memory was razor-sharp with details Time couldn’t blunt; she was a much loved, dedicated teacher. She was also a perceptive critic, using her magic pen to edit my short story collection, Where Monsoons Cry, even after I was certain it was perfect.

Her Skin Phyllo-thin is in her honor. I can best describe my mother in words Maya Angelou wrote of her own mother.”To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.”

This book also contains other poems of separation–immigration, divorce, youth, Time–things we lose and must learn to live without.

There are links to some of these poems on this website (under Publications and Media) so you can read and/or listen to a few poems at your leisure. You can also buy a copy of my book directly from Amazon, or Finishing Line Press, or if you want me to sign and address a copy for you, please visit the book’s page. Happy Mother’s Day Everyone.

Reblog: Proof that science and law can mix with creativity: an interview

Lalita, on incorporating Indian culture into her stories:

“I was born and raised in small towns in India, and only came to the US in my early twenties, so India runs in my blood, and seeps naturally into narratives. It’s easy because I have authentic experiences of the basic elements of fiction–setting, characters, plot, and so on. But I feel the same way now that America is my home. My novel (in the agent-seeking stage) is set in Bombay and Baltimore. My short stories and poems often deal with separation, dislocation and cross-cultural issues. I feel blessed that my readers relate to my work because ultimately these are human issues. After all, home isn’t a physical space and in that sense everyone leaves home.”

Read more of the interview of Lalita Noronha and Doritt Carroll on the BrickHouse Books blog