Feature Friday: Kith by Divya Victor

Either as a way of knowing or being known; either by the way a “we” exists
or does not when we are not home; either as targets or by treason;
either as a question of resemblance or in answer to a name: kith.

 

For this week’s edition of Feature Friday, we’re pleased to bring you an excerpt from Kith by award-winning writer Divya Victor. Kith engages Indian-American diasporic culture in the twentieth century, via an autobiographical account that explores what ‘kith’ might mean outside of the national boundaries of those people belonging to the Indian and Southeast Asian diasporas. Questions about race and ethnic difference are explored in these poems: How do ‘brownness’ and ‘blackness’ emerge as traded commodities in the transactions of globalization? What are the symptoms of belonging? How and why does ‘kith’ diverge from ‘kin,’ and what are the affects and politics of this divergence? Co-published by Book*hug and Fence Books, Kith is an unflinching and simultaneous account of both systemic and interpersonal forms of violence and wounding in the world today.

In praise of Kith, Amitava Kumar writes, “What we have on display in this book is an imagination that is as wide as the world. Part-anthem, part-instruction manual, part-memoir, part-dictionary, this text offers testimony to other ways of being and remembering, a reflection on forgotten lives.” Douglas Kearney adds to this, saying “A keen shriek for stricken kin, Kith pierced me. Divya Victor’s concentrated anger and t(h)rilling intelligence reverberate through these poems, essays, pronunciation exercises, and grim primers.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt from Kith. Happy reading!

 

From Kith:

 

SECOND ATTTEMPT: TO COLLECT ALL MY MOLES

TO MAKE A MOLEHILL ON NO MAN’S LAND

 

I take a letter opener left to my mother by my grandfather who

received it from his father who drove into a tree travelling in

a motorcar a flask quaking in his vest and when the priest’s

vestments quivered at the funeral asking for the fees yet to be

paid before the choir would Ave the grand lad | I take this letter

opener made of a sliver of elephant ivory drawn from the tusks of

a wrinkled grey corpse just so many finger clippings when seen

from above a thousand creamy crescent moons fallen on the dust |

I take this letter opener and slip its tip under the corner of my eye

where my first mole sits like a grain of dark gram or a long lentil

sheltered by lashes and behind glasses | I take that letter opener to

snap it up from my skin like a red waxen seal pressed on my eye

as viscous black bitumen or the pus-beige of beeswax coloured

with vermilion doused in shellac bathed in turpentine and

pressed onto the corner of my eye with a signet ring worn on the

wrinkled knuckles of some so-and-so and so I slip the ivory sliver

under the mole to split it from my skin and open this envelope

| I want this as the first mole for my collection but the wax has

been set on fire and left to harden sealing my skin at the first

place where I can flap it open the correspondence flittering out

pages and pages in an attempt to collect my first mole to make a

molehill on no man’s land when I am eleven years old and falling

asleep on my mother’s lap and her left hand is holding a sheaf of

postcards from Benghazi where my father churns salt water from

the Mediterranean sea into sweet water slumbering in a holy font

nestled in the portico between the six Doric columns of the Old

Cathedral wearing and tearing its marbled skin off

 

*

 

HOW TO SURVIVE ON LAND IF YOU ARE MADE OF PAPER

 

keep variations

on an exit handy

mend the sandals & eat enough

dirt to grow

accustomed to waiting

on new ground

 

walk up to strangers

with maps & beg

an interpretation & ask

them to divine your path

past the Walmart & into

the parking lot where you live

in a Toyota hatching

suitcases unpacking

plans

 

make of your walk a wall

make of your arms an armory

make of a memory nothing but selfsame

but in the darkness of movie theatres

memorize the faces with lined eyes

unlined foreheads untied

frenulums undone

sternums; walk home with

the dead flittering out

of your thrifted coats

cinematic litter— did you see have you seen

us do

like this

*

Once they found a man made of distance— a coat of shells, a wig

of weeds— and at his breast a suckling book made of salty skin,

stamped on its chubble joints, its fatty folds— us, us— visas. Two

webbed palms cupping the downy document. Motherless child,

they said, let us buy you.

 

Once it saw the man— Was he waving or drowning? It matters not:

what is of the water returns to water— Once it saw the man, the

boat rowed itself from the shore, folding fins out like a manta ray

breaching into red spray, cartilage and cartridge inked out, flared

into an X: marking this location and the boat’s movement.

 

& then?

 

Once the man was finally harpooned and lanced to death, the boat

towed him ashore, and, with small cranes sprouting from its fins,

flensed his fat and boiled his bones clean to build a child up from

flank to fo’c’sle; skull to stem; fore and aft.

 

& aft? What was aft?

 

That thing at the end, Child, this was everything that came after

the boats came.

 

Aft was everything we became.

 

Child\ he said\ put out to deep water

and so we did

 

Child\ he said\ let down your net

and so we did

 

Child\ he said\ catch your fish

and so we waited

Order your copy of Kith here.

 

Photo Credit: Jon Gresham

Photo Credit: Jon Gresham

Divya Victor is the author of several books and chapbooks, including Natural Subjects (winner of the Bob Kaufman Award), UNSUB, and Things To Do With Your Mouth. Her chapbooks include Semblance, Hellocasts by Charles Reznikoff by Divya Victor by Vanessa Place, and SUTURES. She was born in southern India and lives in the US where she teaches at the University of Michigan.

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