#DesiReads: Sheniz Janmohamed reads from her poetry collection, Reminders on the Path

Desi Books Ep 48 w/ Sheniz Janmohamed Desi Books


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Hello and welcome to Episode 48 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Today, in the #DesiReads segment, we have Sheniz Janmohamed reading from her latest poetry collection, Reminders on the Path.

#DESIREADS WITH SHENIZ JANMOHAMEDINTRODUCTION

Sheniz Janmohamed was born and raised in Toronto, with ancestral ties to Kenya, Kutch, and Gujarat. She has performed her work in venues across the world, including the Jaipur Literature Festival, Alliance Francaise de Nairobi, and the Aga Khan Museum (Toronto.) A poet and educator, she regularly visits schools and community organizations to teach, perform, and inspire. Sheniz has three collections of poetry, published by Mawenzi HouseBleeding Light (2010), Firesmoke (2014), and most recently, Reminders on the Path (2021).

Infused with the language of place, the poems in this collection are stepping stones from the author’s past to her present, from forgetfulness to remembrance, from unknowing to a deep knowing found only through direct experience. Here, the poet is wayfarer, exploring the path we inherit and seek out, that disappears with every step we take on it. At each step, she sees reminders of the ephemeral and the indelible. A companion on the path, a fleeting memory, a broken twig—all serve as guideposts to cross the threshold of one’s self.

“A richly evocative (re)collection in which Janmohamed turns the language of loss into a grammar of Presence. Tracing the movements of her generational forebears through crossings from India to East Africa to North America, this gifted mystic poet reminds us that while our outer journeys bring dislocations too heavy to bear, our inner journeys bring us back to a shattered heart that finds, in its re-membering, healing and wholeness in the present.”
–Zayn Kassam, Professor of Religious Studies, Pomona College

Reminders on the Path is Sheniz Janmohamed’s third poetry collection with poems that are stepping stones from her past to her present, from forgetfulness to remembrance, from unknowing to a deep knowing. An excerpt in #desireads @DesiBooks

The transcript of this excerpted set of poems is also up on the website.

And now, here’s Sheniz Janmohamed.

[music]

DESIREADS WITH SHENIZ JANMOHAMED

[Excerpted with permission from Reminders on the Path by Sheniz Janmohamed. Copyright © 2021 Sheniz Janmohamed.]

Salt

Thousands stand behind me.

ashen statues bracing the wind
holding stillness like a vow
bellowing saris
white shells against the moon
starched turbans
white feathers against the night

a ghost-light flickers
with the morse code of —

we never left.

I trace the dust of bloodlines
brow bones and jawlines

We have broken the inked silk of the Rann
crossing this terrain
for centuries

What use is a map?

your heartbeat is the compass.

The edge of my great grandmother’s pacheri
is as sharp as the memory of her leaving

the folds of her mother’s wrinkles
pressed into the seams of her shawl
a pouch of cloves, shakkar, dariya—
sewn into her sleeve

If I could plunge my hand into the ocean of that time
I’d dredge for what was thrown overboard,
for who was left behind
I’d bring the salt to my lips
to remember what forgetting tastes like.

Great grandmother

did you say goodbye,
did you know there would never be a return?

a lullaby sung across generations
a pang of separation in the bones
a spoon of curd melting on the tongue
a growl rising from the gut

this is how we say goodbye.

“We have broken the inked silk of the Rann // crossing this terrain // for centuries // What use is a map? // your heartbeat is the compass.” ~Sheniz Janmohamed from Reminders in the Path in #DesiReads @DesiBooks

Geomancy

Great Grandmother
comes to me in a dream

her eyes greyer than
the steel of the waves
before us.

She
hunches over the sand,
fist full of
something I can’t see.

She pours
the contents into
a pouch

and hands it
to me.

My palm weighs down
with the heaviness of
river rocks

flick flick
as they hit the sand
flick flick
as we read their scatterings

Each rock is a question
I can’t answer

She turns to me,
pressing her gnarled finger
against my chest—

it’s your turn now

which are burdens
and which are

anchors?

“…a lullaby sung across generations // a pang of separation in the bones // a spoon of curd melting on the tongue // a growl rising from the gut // this is how we say goodbye.” ~Sheniz Janmohamed from Reminders in the Path in #DesiReads @DesiBooks

Grandfather

He comes to me in a dream
in the flight of a speckled starling
wings as slick as oil, the sun’s rays catching
labradorescent feathers mid-flight

he sings
in a language of a twilight beyond this world.

When I wake,
I keep my eyes on the horizon, listening
for a flicker of emerald gold blue
a sign that he is still somewhere
out there,
streaking the sky
in the blotted ink of memory
in the hum of remembrance
a garbled song
caught in my throat.

Rift Valley Song

What did you know before you knew it?

Soil redder than my blood,
swept into steep embankments.

the smooth bark of a eucalyptus tree
its giraffe’s hide of marbled green, gold and rust.

The pied crow folded between the moon
and night, a half shadow ringed with light.

Drapes of weeping bottlebrush, prickles of red
sweeping the soil in the mid-noon breeze.

Pomegranates still hanging from trees, broken open
into empty shells, their rubies pierced by sharp beaks.

The click-clack of silver dusted ficus leaves
hitting the ground, felled by their own decay.

A line of fire ants crawling under my pollen-stained shirt
every sting a reminder that I am indeed, alive.

Shadows of vultures darkening the view from the ground,
as I collect half-eaten berries discarded by mousebirds.

I left you when the jacaranda were in half-bloom
a half fist of a heart
opening and closing with the sound of your voice.

Night falls over itself
and stars scatter into streetlights

I sit at the cliff-edge of this poem
and ask the valley
where to find the words for it—

in tumbled rocks and chickweed.

“I sit at the cliff-edge of this poem // and ask the valley // where to find the words for it—” ~Sheniz Janmohamed from Reminders in the Path in #DesiReads @DesiBooks

Rift Valley Song II

What will be remembered when you are forgotten?

a prick of acacia thorn

the four note call of a hadada

cape honeysuckle falling over itself

mabati roofs hot in the gaze of a midday sun

flies hovering over warmed hides of lean cows

the crackle of charcoal fires sparking embers into twilight

when we are thousands of years into dust,

you will split open
into a rift sea

cattle bones settling at the
bottom of a new ocean

glass beads swirling
into rainbow whirlpools

whale song
drowning out hill song

memory washed clean
by wefts of waves.

in our forgetting,
becoming.


Reminders on the Path is Sheniz Janmohamed’s third poetry collection with poems that are stepping stones from her past to her present, from forgetfulness to remembrance, from unknowing to a deep knowing. An excerpt in #desireads @DesiBooks


You’ve been listening to episode 48 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in. Today’s #DesiReads segment was with Sheniz Janmohamed reading from her latest poetry collection, Reminders on the Path.

Episode 49 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Email at desibooks@desibooks.co. And please go to the website, desibooks.co, if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

[music]

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