Category Archives: Poetry

Very happy to tell you that I won my second Maryland Individual Artist Award, this time in poetry (the last one was fiction some years ago.) I submitted fifteen poems (the max allowed) that ended up in “Mustard Seed: A Collage of Science, Art and Love Poems.” Also, Beltway Poetry Journal named it one of ten best poetry book in 2016.

In honor of Mother’s Day, here is a poem from my book that I wrote for my grand daughter when my daughter-in-law was in labor.

UNWRITTEN POEM (for Emerson)

That day I wanted to write you a poem,
a villanelle, ghazal, pantoum,
even just a haiku.

I wanted rippled syllables,
rhyming words to squeeze into lines
and spill over when they ought to.

But that day—
there was no language, not even alphabets
for the journey you were taking.

So, I offered you my memory
of your father’s birth,
his twenty-hour journey into a world

soon to be yours.
I offered you what I couldn’t
offer him that day—

my quiet aching heart yearning to take
all the sorrow you would ever face
now –now while you were still safe

before you turned the first page.

And here she is now:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mustard Seed: A Collage of Science, Art and Love Poems by Lalita Noronha

I am thrilled to introduce you to my new poetry book  entitled “The Mustard Seed:  A Collage  of Science, Art and Love Poems” published by Apprentice House Press, Loyola University. The book is dedicated to  my not-quite- three year old grand daughter, Emerson Barlow Blob and my baby grandson Andrew Noronha Blob.

mustard

 

“Mustard Seed” is the name of a poem I wrote for my little sister, Maria, who died of cancer, when she was 5 years old, and I was 11 years old.  I brought her black and white picture in a little silver frame to America forty-some years ago. She lives on my dresser, where I can see her everyday, smiling, and never growing old.

 

Here are two blurbs which appear on the back cover of my book:

“Lalita  Noronha is a rare creature, someone who feels comfortable among the conflicting demands of art and science. In the Mustard Seed she fulfills the promise of her earlier poems on scientific themes, ekphrastic poems on art and artists, and the post-colonial background of her family in India. In her new work, the biological sciences remain powerful sources of metaphors, especially in poems like “Specimen Child,”  “Apoptosis,” “Passive Diffusion,and the astonishing “Beyond the Cenozoic Era.” “The Python,” one of the most amazing poems in this collection, beautifully demonstrates the power of biological description and begs to be compared to animalistic poems by Ted Hughes and Rainer Maria Rilke. It contains the extraordinary line “sorrow swallowed me like a python takes a rat, head first” and the section in which it’s found culminates in a powerful political poem, “Bird of Paradise.”  Finally, something should be said about the tender love poems like “The Shirt” and the ekphrastic poem “The Widow.” I have many other favorites but then this note would turn into an essay. In this sophisticated collection, enlightenment is but a page away.”

–Michael Salcman, M.D., editor of Poetry in Medicine, An Anthology of Poems About Doctors, Patients, Illness, and Healing, and author of A Prague Spring, Before & After.

 Whether discussing the process of passive diffusion (“moving from high to low concentration,/down its gradient,/the way honey swirls, thick in the center”) or the pleasure of going to museums (“your oval gold frame,/a pendant on my heart”), Lalita Noronha writes with the precision of a trained scientist. Mustard Seed travels, from Goa to Baltimore, from Bethlehem to Rome, from past to present—always with a finely attended hand to guide the reader. It is a delight.”

 Kim Roberts, Editor, Beltway Poetry Quarterly.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry, Science, Art

In the winter of this year, I was honored to serve as the guest editor for the Science issue of Little Patuxent Review.  Until I became a poet and writer, I hadn’t thought much about how similar the process of writing is to conducting scientific research.

Below is an excerpt of prose and poetry I wrote for this remarkable journal.

The poet is to the human condition as the telescope and the microscope are to the scientist.
-V.V. Raman

To this day, I remember the elation on my botany professor’s face when he peered into the microscope at my double stained section of a dicot stem and burst out saying– “Look, here is where art lies. No painter can paint something so beautiful. No words can describe it.” I was fifteen, a freshman in college. What did I know of science or art? I’ve forgotten my professor’s name and his exact words, but never that one moment we shared.

Science has always been an integral part of my life, not only because I love it, but because it was my financial gateway to America.  Without scholarships and grants, the little V-shaped Indian peninsula on which I was born was as far from America as the furthest planet. At home, however, science and literature were, as Thomas Huxley says, two sides of the same coin.

My father was a botany professor; my mother was a geography and social studies teacher. As educators, they simply insisted that my siblings and I “learn” —at first, anything, and later, preferably something that would earn us a living. Asked to choose between science and arts, I chose science, of course, and botany as my major. No surprise there!

Since then, I have worked with viruses, bacteria, cells, tissues, and animals in academic research institutions and in the biopharmaceutical industry, and with young women as a high school science teacher. It was only then, when my summers were free, that I began writing. And that felt natural and complete.

Unfortunately, science seems to be more at odds with poetry than with other literary genres. Sometimes, poems invoke science-based images as metaphors that are incorrect, simplified descriptions of the science itself. Counterclaims that science robs the wonder of the natural world and of life itself, with its cold, formal, scientific methodology are equally rampant. In fact, poetry and science have always had a symbiotic relationship. Consider Erasmus Darwin’s long two-part poem The Botanic Garden (1789) which together total some 3260 lines structured in rhyming couplets with footnotes addressing, among other scientific issues, the beginning of his theory of evolution that his grandson, Charles Darwin, would later amplify.

Ultimately, scientific research and creative writing both seek to understand the mysteries of life (and death) on our own planet and beyond, and certainly in our imagination.

Here is my “science” poem first published in Persimmon Tree, 2012. http://www.persimmontree.org/v2/fall-2012/international-poets/

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A Poet’s Calculations
By Lalita Noronha

Paired in vials of cobalt blue media,
they mate, metamorphose in ten days,
specks of eggs hatch squirming larvae,
rice-grain pupae, adult fruit flies.
My students chart sex ratios and the inheritance of traits,
black, round-bodied males, spiny oblong females,
sepia eyes, vestigial wings.
They record data, analyze, calculate gene frequencies.
It’s all done in a month.
My calculations: Should I live to be, say eighty,
a respectable age in these times,
that month of teaching, a thousandth of my life-span,
flew by before I stopped to count butterflies,
or wrote the last line of this poem.

What’s In A Name?

The word “weed” conjures up immortal tough grasses with long tap roots that grow down into the belly of the earth and scar your hands when you try to dig them out, and then stubbornly reappear the following year with more vigor. Or the hairy crabgrass that grows wherever the sun hits the ground, along sidewalks, between and in between flower beds, and every nook and cranny of garden space.

When I learned that the agapanthus is considered a weed in New Zealand, I was flabbergasted. This is plant that seems contained, growing in clumps as day lilies do, sending thick, strong stems, 2-4 feet long, at the end of which some 50 – 60 star-shaped purple flowers, each with six dainty petal are arranged in pompom-like clusters.  To me, the agapanthus is a magnificent, stately flower, adaptable to tall, graceful flower arrangements. My sister floats the pompoms like candles in bowls of clear water.

My father, who taught me to love plants and genetically lent me his green thumb, used to define weeds as plants that grow where we’ve decided they shouldn’t. He was particularly fond of the dandelion,those yellow bursts of sunny petals that sprinkle unmowed lawns, or suddenly pop up on manicured ones, and then have the audacity to turn into feathery wisps that children love to blow and make a wish on. Not to mention dandelion wine and salad if you’re so inclined.

Here are some pics of the lovely agapanthus taken near where I live in New Zealand and my poem below.

Immigrant Dandelion

By

Lalita Noronha

Deep within the mud-brown ground                                                                   

of muscle and bone,

pith of water and cell,

a long tap root

sprouts fine fibrous hairs

and runs deep down

into the belly of the earth.

Sunflower yellow blooms

and feathery seeds,

dare to live

anywhere,

between cracks in pavements,

sidewalks,

within gated walls,

between blades of pristine grass

in sculptured lawns.

Undaunted by perennial labels—

(damned nuisance, common weed,)

they grow quietly, striving to succeed.