Friday, March 16, 2018

Poetry Friday: Birthday Gifts Edition

For my birthday a few weeks ago, I got many lovely gifts, but I want to write about the poetry-related one.  I used an Amazon gift card to buy Aimee Nezhukumatathil's book Lucky Fish, and then spent the balance on chai.  So this week I will share a little review of the book, and then a poem by my brother about chai.

I first discovered Nezhukumatathil's work at Poetry Foundation.  I've posted a couple of her poems on this blog, here and here.  I put her book on my wish list a long time ago, since I was intrigued by what I had seen.  She is half Filipina and half South Indian and lives in Mississippi.  Her writing is unexpected: light-hearted, but often with a twist.  As you can imagine with her background, the references are from everywhere.  "Kottayam Morning" evokes the sounds and smells of her grandmother's home in Kerala, India.  "At the Center for Retired Great Apes" is set in Florida.  "Kansas Animalia" laments:

I pity the lone ostrich at the Wichita petting zoo,
who plucks out her own feathers because they sold
her mate to a place in Toledo.

She writes of stargazing with her father (in spite of mosquitoes), eating Thanksgiving dinner for the first time with her future husband, ice-skating, what it's like to have a name nobody can pronounce.  She writes of giving birth.

Everyone slept            except my valiant
husband
               who stayed awake          for almost three days
and stayed        strong as a pepper plant.            He was
starlight
               and samosa and every good thing.

I love finding entry into the mind and life of a new-to-me poet, and I thoroughly enjoyed this visit with Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

And the chai?  I was running low on the spiced kind I like to buy, Rishi Masala Chai Tea, which is expensive but worth it, so I got myself a new bag.  Here's my brother on chai.  I love this poem for the details of our childhood, and my students always enjoy it when I share it with them each year. 


Chai

It grew in the Kericho sun
watered by the rains that swept up from Lake Victoria
every afternoon at 4
like a heavy felt curtain.
Top two leaves and a bud
picked in the pouring rain.
Flapping black raincoats and hats,
bright faces and bright singing.
The emerald of the freshly washed leaves
almost hurts the eye.
Miles of smooth green hills
stretching to the horizon of my mind.
Dried on acres of wire racks,
the smell of them a liquor in the nostrils,
drowning in the thick black scent of it,
bathing in the aroma,
the smell of home and happiness
and warm rain running down my back
and black earth and blue skies.
Memories, packaged in a green box
and sent to me by kind strangers.

Richard Bowen


Thank you to my dear friends who contributed to this birthday delight.   And thank you to Linda for hosting this week's roundup! 

10 comments:

Irene Latham said...

Wonderful birthday gifts, Ruth! I have blogged about LUCKY FISH before... here is the link: http://irenelatham.blogspot.com/2011/06/what-is-your-sound.html Thank you for sharing your bounty. xo

Linda B said...

I think I need to find this book, Ruth. I love the parts you've shared with us. It will be a special remembrance for your birthday. I have discovered chai in my adulthood and will also look for your special brand, wondering if I can find it? Your brother's poem is full of your life, too, so it must be terrific to have and read. I love those 'memories, packaged in a green box'. Thanks for all this birthday love!

jama said...

You've definitely whetted my appetite for more of Aimee's work -- must add Lucky Fish to my Wish List. Love your brother's poem -- the sensory details and images are so lush and rich. "Memories packed in a green box" says it all. Wonderful!

Mitchell Linda said...

Thank you for this recommendation! I have the perfect friend to gift Lucky Fish to. She's going to the Phiipines this summer and I think this will be just the thing to bind the anxiety and the joy she finds in the trip. What a delightful birthday yours has been for the rest of us. Thank you!
Snapping fingers to your brother.....you all got some writing chops in your family. What s beautiful and sensory poem.

Molly Hogan said...

I'm so happy that your birthday celebration spread its joy to us. This is such a great post. Before even commenting, I rushed to add Lucky Fish to my Amazon cart. I love the snippets of her work that you shared here. This line especially : "He was
starlight
and samosa and every good thing." Wow! The sensory details in your brother's poem had me inhaling deeper, convinced I'd caught a whiff of chai, rich earth, and rain. Wonderful!

Tara Smith said...

I, too, must add this book to my list! I grew up in India, and tea is in my blood - your brother's poem really spoke to me, Ruth.

Tabatha said...

It seems like everyone in your family is talented, Ruth! Lucky you and lucky them :-)

Michelle Kogan said...


Thanks for sharing your birthday treasures with us, that book sounds quite intriguing–having a little of a lot all put together. Your brother's poem is lovely, flows, and feels so textural in description, thanks Ruth!

Kay said...

Thank you for sharing your birthday poetry gifts and introducing me to a new poet. I think I would enjoy her writing, too, from the ones you shared.

Mary Lee said...

Count me in! I want to read more by this poet. And I want to drink some of that chai!