Rigorous
Volume Four, Issue 4



Monica Mody


Of What Are We Made

Earth—three-fourth Waters
quarter body—

tall spirits walking
amongst us,
little people—

dreams tall
as pine & moist

as ears of antelope,
hearts meeting

through sheer audacity & love of liv-
ing & heat

poring out of bodies dancing
to rhythms known-

new—
helicoid to Spirit.

Waters are moving,
we are

moving too,
body mostly

made of Waters,
wisdom coded

in practice, in our very
bones as we strike

rich length of memory
in age of stone—

keeper of
first memory.

If through our gestures
we take away

another’s power
—enable colonization—

we fail
Earth & Waters.

In his lineage, one of my teachers learnt
as a boy, the hard way

what it meant to lose
everything—

culture, language, id-
entity—

they stole from him
belonging—

who had forgotten
their way home,

& how we belong to Earth,
totality of each other.

My teacher carries
this knowing in his bones,

he is obliged to make his gift still—
teach your wisdom, ancestors tell him—

they cannot take it
away from him.

Waters are moving & we on Earth
are moving

waves whose
singing swells

in Her marrow.
Now don’t say,

We’re all the same
& love is the answer.


What does it take to attend—
not flinch—at different

trajectories of suffering?
Can we honor healing

histories,
their immense particularity

and is that love
rehearsing?


2.

My own friends do not understand why I get agitated with small

injustices. Entire histories lost

for being small. We write from faith

in writing’s capacity to un-silence, re-

verberate with sound of what needs voicing, what needs see-

ing, but even writing

is a box in a room, light streaming out. Read the shape

of fluttering tealeaves. Read the signs. Entire histories get lost within words—entire worlds.

Little children pick up the streaming box & turn it upside down & Earth flows out,

Waters sing loud. Memories that river-like have kept flowing—

we’re in the stream with them, patterns storing stress. We live implicated,

best intentions caught by forms that deny & destroy—shatter

lives. What must we learn to live free,

whole—to make freedom our new pattern.


3.

Language spits & splits

away from me—I cannot bear to look away.

I will Waters to move,

split open, reveal words

whose moisture heals

Earth our world.

Writing each word, pact with Spirit—pack of incantational

berries—we bite into, we grow

stronger. Each word like a new eruption

summoning each other.




Relative

Language, always
perfectly inadequate

Each word
arched w/
invisible connection

      steps off ship

What subjugated
knowledges?

Is there a reason
ancestors brought us
together?

Nothing takes place
of nothing

      soft space
un-language around

Soul recovers experience from frame

What dreams will not speak
when awake?

All wisdom
      grasses & pinecones

      collective breathing

Trees extend branches
      know

      sheer mystic belonging

I cannot perceive
      what sustains me
      at a deep level I know

      dive below
each instant

grain of sand

wisdom’s secret
long memory

lovestruck
vagrant cloud path

            rushing
but for eccentric word

Not until I feel
      in body
      can it reveal

sieve emotion

temper burden of world




Friendship

Adult in me accepts the loss. Old woman foretold it. It is the child that is in shock. See where she has grown sunless within? See how she keeps out others?—at a rustle of suspicion, throwing out baby, bath, water. See how I thought I had put it behind—pernicious rubble kicked out of my life? But when I lean into the question—Was I seen?—see where pain floods me like asphalt, lays siege against my body, bends my back? Breath cut off, I lean away from it. Coccyx becomes a siren of alarm. Then this is what the body remembers. I let the child name her profound heartbreak. It was never just about the white husband who would not know respect, nor acknowledge disrespect. In that most intimate of settings, it was about you and me, friend. When does friendship begin betraying us—minutest of betrayals—when do we stop seeing, being seen? To carry on as a grownup who put it behind—that you discussed me behind my back, turned loose dissatisfaction aswirl between us in a movement that would harm me and protect another—Flush rises as body’s cellular language. I would have loved to rise above it all, impersonal as a goddess. Instead, I want to point fingers and sound a keening of blame. What the body holds—betrayed of seeing by those we loved—hunkers somewhere. We yearn so for communion. I have been sloughing dead skin, projected skin, most of my life. We long to be porous to another’s knowing. When disenchantment from cosmos buffers me, I cannot see parts of myself. Can we see our own shadow—do we see it only when an other steps on it? I never claimed to be perfect. I was trying, like us all—peculiarly mixed, seen and unseen. Pain folded against spine is a palette of primal matter. Tremor is evidence of ossification melting. When I am able to see in myself what you left so profoundly unseen, body begins to release. I will be my own safe place. For this, I give thanks to this dinner—this year—this consultation with illuminance. And when I inflict unseeing upon another, may I forgive myself too, and seek to experience seeing.




So, where will we begin today?

The window, barely cracked open to let in the light of sun.


I had barely begun to celebrate us.

I had barely begun to feel the pain of not being able to celebrate us.


Pin that held us together dropped,
and for weeks we continued to fall
together. Apart.


I raise my head above the swamp we made
together, apart.

Mud’s role is to clear the skin, make us beautiful.


The draft of Yemaya’s poem I wrote for you
is still propped against the wall by my bed,
unfinished.


Yet my mudcaked head rises above the swamp,
and I see the new world through red eyes.




Wild—

on tip of your feather, tip of your wing, soaring familiar as bones
cracking open to curve of dance that bends

             what spills from your eyes to its own rage, endemic
             ache, deep into memory that lives in your muscles,

so ancient—mothers
must have sung it to you crooning, wailing.

             Wild, resplendent wing burning, would have you know:
             what is free is fettered

to the tree—
owl & mineral root—

             whale praise—crag
             & mountain echo—

circles we make with our hands in air—
air we rub on our faces like water—

             moonlight threading hair, & thunder—
             blood from womb

distilling so Earth would know our color.




Our Story

Here we all
arrive, tangled
in time’s noise

moss
sticking out of ears
& knees knot-
ted with wood

toes of shell curved
inward
dripping water

Here we arrive
& our old, old pains
knotted

in this, our dance
together, & all of us
knotted still

knots down length
of time, along
our spine

lit up & darkened

& tangled
in colors in rain-
bow that

have not yet existed

Wherever
we raise our eyes

air itself is hum-
ming with stories

with wings
of butterfly, pore
dust gold

In this alive
world, we are kn-
otted with old, old

colors

& each night
as we gather
round the fire

will we still
tell knots
of stories?

“This happened
one day, children:

this happened,
& even we
were not around to see”

& when a child
places a finger

in tree’s
hollow or
fire's eye

will she
remember?

That we were
& have been

that we hurt
& got hurt

there were homes we to-
ok away
bodies we washed

eyes we burnt
& tears
we wiped with our own rough
tongue

there were those we put into prison
& those we fed
with our love

those who picked up the sickle
& slashed grandma

those who found in the stamp-
ede our only mother

always carried
dread-whip around

poisoned our crops
& stole our waters

blew cool
breath & water
on our fevered forehead

prayed with us

returned our dreams to us
fought by us

gave the word
& we jumped
into the hollow between time

there are those that live
in our hearts like coal

still wait
for us to ret-
urn, lit like a lamp

& will we say
“This is also our story, children
ours

as we sing & stitch
& knead & solder

& raise
the new story

out of her dream
& ours?

Will we
agree to not forget nor ig-
nore knots &
stories growing old

& that we are still bleeding
into earth

& that it matters

        Stars will
mix with mist & blood

here &
if we open
our hearts enough

it is possible
for all of it to exist

all of us




nightwatchers

tail buried in earth core
i bathe in their light
as they call each other within

surrendering
tonight i’ve agreed
to lie down next to mystery

ocean surface
rising & falling
open like night sky

stars open
their gaze &
see me

they have no heart but love
ancient radii
i drink deep & trillion

clouds of spare
matter, spare light
live & die

get reborn like me
thus attuned
in my womb

lavish in being seen
my magic shifts
invisible corners of shadows

lift, reveal
their own particular
fissure of understanding




Light rises like a torched moth

Its tongue on fire
& into mouths of full witnesses

It is a matter of time before your coat turns blazing red

Your tail on fire, you pick out blizzards
from my skin, leave droplets of meaning embedded in saliva

I turn red as your love & flicker with disinterest

Mouth has its own precipice & meanings
slam against us, words frigid with fright & we cry,
bare our souls, our teeth

A lone word detached from image rises
like smoke off our flanks

Rubbed in glee, word hosts us with meanings, riddles
our skin, thick skin leather skin

& thirst breaks its gaze to look at sky
where ancestors dwell with riven eyes

Your voice swells with surprise,
lungs crumple

This is the forecast for today—
global scarcity for grace & weepers
thrilled by our inability to rise to meet earth

Spiral hosts a toy-spider, webs
intermingling with mine
& story, matched

Once I was obsessed with the inability to tell stories
Today, even straight sentences strung with pighair weep
into shape opening into itself, wide-eyed—
mouth a derangement in which a pain sits

Pain still has your little finger in its clasp
Your arm riddled with what refuses to close

It is easy for dependencies to swallow whole




We Lived as Rhythm

Deep song thrumming in chest, vibration created by our time together, mellowinghearts of spirits we called in, something thawing

in ice that rains inside rooms we live in—ancestors

giving us their mouths so we can feed them morsels of grief from our breasts, & blood—sadness dropping

from eyes. It all happened. Ground moved.

Leaves & mulch beneath our toes started to live in lines on our feet.

Raccoon made a home in tree hole, two hummingbirds sleeping on his chest.

Patterns of energy shifted & a whole new way of looking looked upon us.

Song spread into roots of old bark, becoming its fingers, its sap.

Sap washed our cheeks, our breasts, & we gave ourselves to Earth, we flowed into Earth & lived as rhythm that startles people.

We opened up a world, & world with its new seas & continents, emerging from Earth, rippled with aliveness—we welcomed its pulse.

Animals stopped, & trees grew their ears long.

Spiders arrived to incubate the new world.

Our fingers filled with light, our foreheads met Earth, our fibula dug into mulch into leaves, & thus buried, we rested.

Space was light & our hearts were brown & wild as Earth.

When we looked up: there were crowns of trees, there was sky.




Somatic

Secret terrain where one-seeing resides

Snake looks at woman:
it is not distance

Terroir of oneness
through which they move together

Energies folding out of you
Energies folding out of me

Inner the mystery:
Enter

Rivers rise from base of mountain
undammed



Monica Mody: "I am the author of Kala Pani (1913 Press) and two chapbooks. My poems have also appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Poetry International, Indian Quarterly, Boston Review, and Almost Island. I have been a recipient of the Sparks Prize (University of Notre Dame), the Zora Neale Hurston Award (Naropa), and the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing. My PhD dissertation on a decolonial feminist consciousness for South Asian borderlands was awarded the 2020 Kore Award for Best Dissertation in Women and Mythology. I was born in Ranchi, India, and live on Ramaytush Ohlone land."




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