The following poems are from Anita Mohan’s inaugural book of poetry, Letters to An Albatross (BlazeVOX Books, Buffalo, New York, 2010):
Flawed ekistics left us somnambulists.
We left the crowded settlement, we followed
trails of those before us to this
desolate field. A murder of crows,
ever dreamless, caw from pepper trees
with their shadowy red boughs. Sometimes
they sound like violent nose-blowing of old men
and other times their harpy shrieks rent the skein
of silver wind.
Buffeted by the cold flush of this August morning,
before the heat flushes our cheeks,
before our tongues hang
out, before the viscosity of thought
is broken by the scent of bergamot
I take off my boots and let hay make between
The puppy's paws trip-trapping over
the famed bridge, down-low and tripping
jazzily along, her toenails unclipped,
she glances back with kohl-rimmed eyes, flashing
mischief, over a determined
shoulder. She misses the almond trees that
lined the farmyard, the womb with its
playmates in amnions, snuggled close
and out under the orange wafer of
moon--you too are too happy to sleep
you are alive!
We all know sleep
Brooks something strange.
Valentine from the Galapagos
Spotlights shine pale green like
Ghosts beneath the frothing black ocean
Torn by the wake of the yacht.
Constellations sparkle above and below
A million tortured invertebrates cry
Out, out, out, in surprise
At this unknown beast passing overhead
On so windy a night.
But we gaze down at these shining green cries
We catch our breath excited.
We breathe out in rapture.
We consult on the topic of one perfect gleam and
Then at another soft mushroom of chartreuse
We stand hushed and look out over the water
With the reverence of a five year old watching
Her first fireworks display.
Foreigners never migrated to this sunken, collapsed volcano,
Instead the people, the hibiscus, the goats with their tropical needs
Stayed on Santa Cruz and
And washed down the cinnamon with garua,
As it misted and drizzled through cisterns
And the brand-spanking new pipes that parallel lava tunnels.
Below our feet this island was born a collapsed volcano
The cooled lava flowed and pocked and its craters were seeded and
The once moonscape of ash
Like a memory branded upon the ocean
The underwater volcano, apocalyptic, dusty ebony
And striated sanguine brick, streaked with sand
Crowned with tuff.
The waved albatross with her dark, buttery gaze
Warms large eggs in deep long grasses
Hidden in long grasses,
Deeper in, lovers duel with gold-hooked beaks
With memory, with nothingness, with longing
So unyielding that
Their long necks crane forward to dance
As if they do not possess that gene we have,
(That others have)
For the cruelty of time passing.
Scorpio rose last night, and storm petrels flew behind the ship
But did not bode ill,
For in the morning, when sepulchral sunlight rises over dead lava hills.
You can still hear the pantomime of jocular Arlecchino
and mopey Pierrot
Wooing Columbina with sweet and wacky charms
Their webbed feet rouged and glowing, their knowing purple eyes
Unflinching behind blue rims
Those masked boobies, those powdered silver down, red-footed boobies,
Are nesting everywhere in a dew-green kingdom,
Winning big and losing it all
And breaking hearts,
Squabbling and scolding, how to raise babies is the topic du jour
The Babies look askance as you peer between leaves
At their funny faces—
They’re supple as rubber clowns.
You wonder why
that green bush is laughing so hard.
You’ve got a handful of explanations.
The bush is alive with Darwin's finches:
vampire, tree, warbler,
So many names, so many colors, soft feathers,
glinting beady eyes peer out
Curious heads cocked
question mark heads—
Their chortling bubbles in the stillness,
and the dry, pale, hot air
that smells as if the sun took a piss.
the joke is as its always been, you know
the joke is on you.
Climbing Heartbreaker, you can see the crater in the sea,
a beige donut in all that green.
A panorama of dulled red and gold and cinder cones and dust.
Jump! Snorkel far beneath that vista point and you might find
chocolate chip sea stars, blue and red sea stars as big as eleven hearts,
and fish: kings and angels and boxes and damsels in distress
Moorish idols and rainbow wrasse,
a penguin looking sideways at you from the rocks.
Inner dreamscape, cold snorkeling with the sea lion romping by at every turn. When you snort down the salty ocean water,
you remember yesterday.
Tide-pools that swirled and sucked down, then an
immense tide rushing out and into portals in the lagoon
gurgling sound where the fur seals play.
Early morning, lumber across six volcanoes
Strung together like pendants by an intense gush of lava,
They approach you
Enormous tortoises in the wild
You move, they pause
They listen, you listen.
Enormous land iguanas with their parchment golden wrinkles
And red tracery,
They creep past painted locusts and cotton flowers
licking the ground for pheromones and eating berries
As they taste the air for danger and
Wend their wondrous way across.
A Saturnine island, faced with a
bloody murder mystery noir grows
into an island of expatriate ghosts.
Cruise olivine salty sands,
between pencil urchins and calcified shells.
Ghosts migrated to this sunken volcano
for its springs. Sure,
they say it’s the water, but magnets
come in all shapes and sizes.
Flamingoes ducking their heads for fish,
flamingoes circle in Icarus light and
incense trees look ashen as ghosts against the hillside.
Soft pink wings, nearly red from a distance as a
flock flies across gleaming blue waters.
Tortuga rock snorkeling with Mexican hogfish
Schools of hieroglyphic hawkfish, angelfish,
a cavorting sea lion rips into a tuna and
itty bitty fish convene around him hoping for snacks.
On Saturn’s other face, turtle nests on a snowy white beach:
you see baby turtles pop fragile heads from the flour sands
as they crawl out clumsy, already ancient
we see them in dark green blue waves, paddling along,
and we see manta rays moving beneath the surface,
only glimpsed as purple shadows of a flock of birds in sunlight.
The sand is ultrafine, flourier and whiter
than any place you’ve seen.
The island is awash in savage ghosts
A frigate bird spies the baby turtle as it starts its descent down the beach
Swoop! Baby is no more, sharp talons took him home.
Strong currents whisper loud and louder.
How did that vegetarian die of poisoned chicken?
Did slaves kill their dominatrix with boundless love?
Can you keep a secret?
You are only half here, for the pungent smell of yesterday
Fills the breeze over the ocean
Red mangroves root in the water like hungry red snouts
All brilliant against the bottle-green shallows
You paddle over sharp coral into a desolate lagoon
And dip your head in the cool water,
One sea turtle, two sea turtles, three sea turtles
Glide heavenly and gentle and old as stone
Stranded by El Nino.
Endemic yellows and whites, only the Galapagos morning glory is excepted from this militaristic scheme.
Science fiction set:
kayaking past four tree lions lolling on mangrove branches
solitude and crabs everywhere modern mod dancing
to silent music.
One Sally Lightfoot side-stepping like a B-movie star
Asks you for inspiration:
Is this what you came here looking for?
Virginal island never blinks,
its black whirlpools of lava, screwed into ropes and snapped
into sharp points and chasms.
At first you see one marine iguana hiding there in those death-grey ropes
wearing a carmine fichu over leathery skin,
but then there’s another and another--
A quick mind burp and soon you see one hundred of them
Sun-bathing with their third eyes.
Prince Philip trails through incense trees
scores and scores of great
Males with red sacs full to bursting
call plaintively to the women from roosts
nestled between ash branches and smooth stones
tropic birds, their tails streaming behind,
circle and glide in perpetual dissatisfaction
at a distance from the warring,
thieving frigates, double up
to mug a blue-footed booby.
Can’t hop, can’t jump, can’t walk.
Scavenge what you will, it’s a hard knock life.
So you wade into waters, blowing bubbles and see.
Enormous azure parrot fish and Moorish idols and surgeonfish
as imposing as bowling balls in the equatorial waters.
Engine dies and pretends
To be a white fish
For a song, a sign, from pacific
You might wait an eternity,
Yet hear only water lapping at
Mangroves rooted in the lagoon
Like veins alive.
Rays glide with mute and perfect grace
Back and forth
Watching the white, suddenly quiet, foreigner
A dream of old spattered rays
Young sleek mustard rays
All harmonize: now to hot morning
Light, now to shadows, to shade.
Circle, circle, and then the fleet of rays fly
Past the drifting panga, lifting
Shining wide wings
Through the ancient face of water
Like golden sails.
Dance the shoes to pieces, leave them,
she says. He steals a golden bough,
a pinkish gold. Shoes danced to pieces, leave them, she says.
Oh, heated night. Princess' feet bruised
and battered. He steals a diamond bough,
flowers the color of thumbs
And night like a furnace. Twelve
feverish feet charred black as night.
He is smothered in eglantine rose, a rosy hypoxia
Fenced by thin-lipped ridges of turrets
or hemlock or ash or a white
flock of doves in a rose world or
thorny-trussed roses in this castle
of sweet. Servants fold him like laundry
and though he steals a cup, his stomach
churning, none of the death princes has
one word for rose. Leave them she says.
He brings the proof, the boughs and a cup,
The father gives him the oldest,
her skin febrile and night after night
the oldest still dances for death.
Soldier injects himself with
morphine, still longs for the youngest.
Finds his wife’s shoes bloody,
color of kidneys, intestines,
small organs, ribbons the texture of
entrails that curl across the battlefield.
Rose vines grew there the morning
Whales at Dumbarton Bridge
Night split like melon and stanzas of salt
emerged, ghostly humps,
from the marsh
slight as backs of whales glimpsed
while sculling ripples, quietly swallowing
the volcanic stench of sulphur.
Ponds burnished by sunrise. Power
transformers cast gangly
reflections. Autos snorted
along the bridge.
Whales came and came,
by a thin flood of lilac.
Born in India and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Anita Mohan is a poet, fiction writer and litigator. She lives in Mountain View with her two corgis. Her work has been published various places online. She received a Puffin Foundation grant in 2005 for a letterpress/poetry project that eventually morphed into her first poetry collection, Letters to An Albatross. Anita has also completed two novels, Sparks Off You and Hurry Up and Wait, and is currently at at work on a second book of poems.
Anita Mohan will be reading with several other talented writers on June 22, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. at Books and Bookshelves in San Francisco.