Thursday, January 15, 2009

Big Wind, Good Poem

"
This is a surprise, a lyric poem going for the musical measure and actually achieving the end. "Morning of the Monsoon" is not an over-alliterated fruit bowl of loud colors and stray wind chimes, it is a series of low tones modulating to harder gusts, the peace of a shore line giving way gradually to the roiling plunder of seasonal storm. Diane Mehta gets it right, and elliptically fuses memories of sublime nature writing with the human response to an eden about to be turned and churned by natural process.

The blue-black curve of weather sizzles when it smacks the asphalt.
Ocean air tumbles in, loosely shaped in networks of water.

Embroidered marigolds on muslin, canary-yellow kurtas,
pelican pink blur together in the wash
flowing in rivulets down the grooves of roads

the British built. Rainwater aimless as worshippers
tilted in prayer, chanting the old rhythms.

The monsoon works itself north. Cashews infuse the air
which thrives on motion, ripe fruit, and daily appeals—
a step up in the next world, more love.


So many poems get drunk on enjambment and stall like a car engine we've just flooded with our impatience to get out of the parking lot; Mehta has the ear for the way words cascade and comment off one another, she knows which articles to drop to quicken the pace, and when to slow it down with a line or two of greater length, deeper measure. Rainwater aimless as worshippers /tilted in prayer, chanting the old rhythms is rich and resonant, a rhythm of r's purring over the collective cloistering that seeks a refuge from the disrupted air, the erupting sky. It suggests a layering of sounds, strong winds and shrill whistling through the cracks, a droning prayer that centers the community.

Ash is the color of the road,
my grandmother's ashes cold as my mother's bones,
remains that will be mine. Words don't last in me—

there are too many dialects. I tilt into finite.
The rest plug into a circular, scene-shifting pull of souls—

Nirvana and the rest, rapture—
to be cut loose from life, its repetitions
hell. Like walking into the shade.


A keen ear and a sure tongue are a combination any poet would desire, and Mehta has them both on display with this work, bringing the reader through the experience of the monsoon and out the other side without hamming up the particulars about Nature's Wrath or How I Survived The Big Wind, among other stale strategies she might have taken. It is the perception of the child after an event she had not had before in her short life, eyes full of the blend of muted terror mixed with awe, the experience of seeing everything you've become accustomed to changed in a power set of instants. A poet who gets that right is someone meriting a further read.