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!
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
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
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
sternums; walk home with
the dead flittering out
of your thrifted coats
cinematic litter— did you see have you seen
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.
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.
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.