& occasionally about other things, too...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lantana Strangling Ixora

The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) is an influential organisation that helps shape  the Indian Government’s policies on the Indian Diaspora. It has presence all over the world and has a special significance for the Indian Diaspora, more so in North America.

Its e-newsletter is a much-awaited monthly bulletin that gives a roundup of activities of the Indian Diaspora across the world; preoccupied with policy matters, it doesn't usually have any significant mention about culture, and almost never about poetry.

However, the December e-newsletter that I got earlier this week surprised me.

It had a whole paragraph on my friend Sasenarine Persaud (Sase).

“Guyanese born PIO Dr. Sasenarine Persaud has released his most recent collection of poems titled Lantana Strangling Ixora. The poems provide a ready metaphor for the consciousness of the Americas overcoming that of India in the Americas – the main streaming and divesting of yoga from its Hindu origins being the most visible manifestation. This collection ranges widely in its geographical and historical concerns, from Canada to Guyana to India and places in between, exploring the contradictions in our lives: familial influences, terrorism, literature, politics, race, and the power of language and representation.”

I met Sase in the strangest of circumstances. He was attending the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts (FSALA-11) and I was to pick him up from the airport.

But a misreading of flight schedules resulted in two participants reaching Toronto almost simultaneously from different places and at different terminals.

I couldn’t go to pick him, but met him a day later at the festival and we turned friends instantly.

Sase has an easy charm and wears his creativity quite lightly.

His collection of poems Lantana Strangling Ixora (published by TSAR) was released during the festival, and he read a few poems from his new collection.

I particularly liked this one:

Marco Polo at Rama-Sethu.

Silken threads known
before his journey
to the Emperor’s court

recording on that passage
Rama’s bridge across the ocean
from Tamil Nadu to Lanka

Raghu’s vanaar army – how inebriated
can you be if monkeys talk
in an underwater crocodile wife’s

yearning for monkey-liver soup
to cure an ailment: man shooting
too much breeze with another

must be curbed – building a stone
causeway to confront Ravana –
You do not negotiate with terrorists.

Lantana Strangling Ixora – the poem that gives the collection its name has stunning imagery.
Lantana is a South American flower and Ixora is an Asian flower; Sase is a Guyanese of Indian descent.

Lantana Strangling Ixora

There were times in the morning
we questioned the bloom
of the previous evening, watering
cana lilies, clearing the live oak
acorns from our white wrought-iron bench

How do ripe plantains smell?
Like ripe bananas. You could laugh
until after dinner. I will hold
Radhakrishnan’s interpretations of the Upanishads
until you snap on the ceiling fan

And we swirl on the sheets of a different seeking
scented like lilacs in a north-of-Toronto park
or in the Arnold Arboretum. If you conjure
a dead British poet with the same last name
would you be wrong? American literature

Or flowers in a Florida garden
are all we need to know except
if “papa” is hunting in the “Green Hills of Africa”
or Buck is observing Chinese. You drift
off into a naked sleep where snores sing

And a mouth that has taught us Kali’s secrets
falls open to accommodate blocked passages
or water the definition of a flower cluster
or the naming of a southern plant: datura
as prickly as that morning when the alarm
failed to startle sexed sleep and you are hurried

For a meeting and we barely have time
to glance at the golden marigolds—left foot
right foot brake and accelerate through amber
lights impatient with ancient drivers gaping

At dew on the St. Augustine grass and the aroused
ficus leaves, a replica of Rama’s arrow tips, and
we barely have time to see lantana strangling ixora

Image: TSAR Books

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