“Outcry” – Rajiv Mohabir

Image: Parvati and Shiva, posted at Flickr by harminder dhesi under a Creative Commons License.

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.

“Why Whales Are Back in New York City” – Rajiv Mohabir

Image: Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), posted at Flickr by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith under a Creative Commons License.

There will be whalesong at the end of the world. It will be the beginning of a new one.

Rajiv Mohabir‘s “Why Whales Are Back in New York City” feels at once fabulist and utterly real. Which is not to say that fables aren’t some of the most potent realities we learn, as children, then spend our adult lives trying to drown out. Whales, whether fantastic or corporeal, don’t drown often. One thing that can cause it is persecution.

ICE raids and whales might not, at first contemplation, have much in common, but Mohabir’s creative imaginarium, which makes room for both risk and miracle, weaves natural science and human defiance to make a drumsong. A song that peals out, “They won’t keep us out / though they send us back. / Our songs will pierce the dark / fathoms.” The whales will remind us that it’s possible to swim through chemical danger to return where no one, no governing menace, can truly tell you not to be.

Nor is Mohabir’s poem a halcyon idyll. Whales are, in fact, returning to New York. What did I tell you about fables, and for that matter, origin stories, being real? Cetaceans say fuck you, to borders. Fuck you, human persecution. We’ll swim and sing where we are.

The sole human of the poem is deeply conscious of multitudes: of the we who cannot be effaced, the immigrant we, the brown othered we, who can be carted off, handcuffed, border-threatened, but not scrubbed. Not effaced. That ‘we’ is no less than a royal we, rippling with the legacy of labour, of industry, of survival.

It took whales a hundred years to decide New York waters were safe again. They didn’t stop singing in all that time. Neither will we. Our defiance chants underwater bhajans.

Read “Why Whales Are Back in New York City” here.
Rajiv Mohabir is Assistant Professor of Poetry in the Department of English at Auburn University.

Puncheon and VetiverThis is the nineteenth installment of Puncheon and Vetiver, a Caribbean Poetry Codex created to address vacancies of attention, focus and close reading for/of work written by living Caribbean poets, resident in the region and diaspora. During April, which is recognized as ‘National’ Poetry Month, each installment will dialogue with a single Caribbean poem, available to read online. NaPoWriMo encourages the writing of a poem for each day of April. In answering, parallel discourse, Puncheon and Vetiver seeks to honour the verse we Caribbean people make, to herald its visibility, to read our poems, and read them, and say ‘more’.