Of What Are We Made
tall spirits walking
as pine & moist
as ears of antelope,
through sheer audacity & love of liv-
ing & heat
poring out of bodies dancing
to rhythms known-
helicoid to Spirit.
Waters are moving,
made of Waters,
in practice, in our very
bones as we strike
rich length of memory
in age of stone—
If through our gestures
we take away
Earth & Waters.
In his lineage, one of my teachers learnt
as a boy, the hard way
what it meant to lose
culture, language, id-
they stole from him
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
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
their immense particularity
and is that love
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.
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.
steps off ship
Is there a reason
ancestors brought us
Nothing takes place
Soul recovers experience from frame
What dreams will not speak
grasses & pinecones
Trees extend branches
sheer mystic belonging
I cannot perceive
what sustains me
at a deep level I know
grain of sand
vagrant cloud path
but for eccentric word
Not until I feel
can it reveal
temper burden of world
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
I raise my head above the swamp we made
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,
Yet my mudcaked head rises above the swamp,
and I see the new world through red eyes.
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,
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—
& 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.
Here we all
in time’s noise
sticking out of ears
& knees knot-
ted with wood
toes of shell curved
Here we arrive
& our old, old pains
in this, our dance
together, & all of us
knots down length
of time, along
lit up & darkened
in colors in rain-
have not yet existed
we raise our eyes
air itself is hum-
ming with stories
of butterfly, pore
In this alive
world, we are kn-
otted with old, old
& each night
as we gather
round the fire
will we still
one day, children:
& even we
were not around to see”
& when a child
places a finger
That we were
& have been
that we hurt
& got hurt
there were homes we to-
bodies we washed
eyes we burnt
we wiped with our own rough
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
poisoned our crops
& stole our waters
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
for us to ret-
urn, lit like a lamp
& will we say
“This is also our story, children
as we sing & stitch
& knead & solder
the new story
out of her dream
agree to not forget nor ig-
nore knots &
stories growing old
& that we are still bleeding
& that it matters
mix with mist & blood
if we open
our hearts enough
it is possible
for all of it to exist
all of us
tail buried in earth core
i bathe in their light
as they call each other within
tonight i’ve agreed
to lie down next to mystery
rising & falling
open like night sky
their gaze &
they have no heart but love
i drink deep & trillion
clouds of spare
matter, spare light
live & die
get reborn like me
in my womb
lavish in being seen
my magic shifts
invisible corners of shadows
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,
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.
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:
Rivers rise from base of mountain
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."