When I began reading the poems of Rajiv Mohabir, the image of myself grew, like a flame seeking similar fire. Think of what happens when a lit deya is joined by a trayful of others, before being taken out to the courtyard. I lit my own understanding of myself, and see myself illuminated in Rajiv’s work – where it reaches, what it teaches and dares. “Outcry” is a new, burning deya for me to hold.
Intimate partner violence is no stranger to Indian diaspora families around the globe. In the poem, a woman’s passage to Liberty Avenue has been paid by Prem, a man whose name means ‘love’. In coiled, taut language, in brief lines that snap and bite, the poem takes the tone of archivist, of document-keeper. The ledger being filled is an account of abuse. How important it feels to say that plainly, in the same plain and unembroidered truth Mohabir makes of “Outcry”.
For all that, don’t be surprised if your heart hurts in time to the syncopated brutality of the poem. The language shines without ornamentation, lighting itself to reveal a purplish skeleton narrative: cycles of abuse churning like the kala pani; a man “from whose breath / amber with rum, / a demon springs / into limb and shadow / and spits knives”. Be surprised at yourself if your heart doesn’t hurt.
A poem is always its own invention. In this case, Rajiv takes us to the immediacy of the news, to the woman turned into a bloody statistic by a man’s rage. In a real sense, the poem unstatistics Rajwantie Baldeo, gives her a habitation in text that goes beyond fact sheets and coroner’s reports. Those are their own uneasy poetry too, of course. This poem makes a permanence of her name, demanding you say it. Say Rajwantie Baldeo.
Read “Outcry” here.
Rajiv Mohabir’s second collection of poems, The Cowherd’s Son, was published in 2017 by Tupelo Press.
This is the twenty-third installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.