CENTER STAGE

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MONI BRAR

Image by Mathias P.R. Reding

Test Case

I’m an experiment
gone wrong. lifted from
the sweat of monsoons,
uprooted from memoried soil
smudged with footprints
of peasant farmers,
sturdy stock surviving
cholera and dengue,
drought and deluge,
but not a fall
down a bore hole.
I was masala powder
broken down
into individual spices,
each a pungent marvel
and whole. I spooled
from mothers who babied
slick water buffalos,
from fathers who raged
and grew long mustaches.
I breathed air
heavy with jasmine,
heavier with embers
of dung patty fires
while I suckled
on a mango teat.
I was hollowed out,
transplanted
into three inches of
unapologetic snow
littered with boot prints
and paw prints
of no clear origin,
into small town fright,
into wounds
laced with wounds.
Transplant unsuccessful.

Previously published in FreeFall Magazine

What You Want Doesn’t Matter

When you ask me
where are you from?
do you want me to say
I’m from
a crushed clove
the husk of a coconut
coriander dust
the swell of the water buffalo’s belly
the ocean’s lust for the moon?

When you ask me again
I won’t answer 
instead, I’ll say
I have
a peacock in my pocket
tucked among old stories
nesting in lint
feeding on crumbs and little lies
I gently push down its throat.

Previously published in PRISM international

Legacies of the Colonized

   it’s not like that.

there were soft things lapping at our
    ankles, countless unbidden
       treasures, before
you showed up.

   there was hope

and wild peacocks on our rooftop
    waiting for handfuls of grain,
       raining upwards
in the sky.

   there was joy

as slight as a young neem tree, a
    smooth melancholy before
        your booted heel
ground us down.

   then you left

not in one fell swoop, but by
    slowly plucking the tender
       tissue of our
entwined lives.

   you planted

self-loathing in places deep as
   bore holes, filling us with a
       warm, thick hate that
just won’t quit.

   my father

beats my mother religiously
    after temple, leaves marks like
       birthmarks, but they’re
nothing like them.

Previously published in Existere Journal of Arts & Literature

Q&A with poet Moni Brar

Describe your “writer-self” in three words.

Hyphenated, evolving, storyteller.

What is the most challenging aspect about writing for you?

Trusting my authentic voice and resisting the pressures to change my writing. This is something I’ve been working on for the past year, with the help of a supportive writing community and some fantastic writing mentors. Much of my writing comes from a place of violence, abuse and trauma, and I used to be apologetic for producing writing that was ‘dark’ or ‘depressing.’ I felt pressure, both internal and external, to infuse my poems with positivity and happiness, or at least end them on an uplifting or redemptive note. It’s been hard, but I’ve resisted these pressures as it feels false to write that way as it’s not reflective of my lived experience.  The fact is, I live with depression and PTSD, and my writing is informed by and explores themes related to these aspects. And that’s okay.

Where, when and how are you inspired to write?

When I’m on long walks, I find I’m inclined to recognize new ideas and accumulate words and phrases I later use in my poetry. Nature is an endless source of inspiration for me, be it the natural surroundings I’m immersed in at the moment, or a memory of the natural world of my childhood resurfacing. I feel privileged to divide my time and write in two very different settings: on my family’s farm in the sun-drenched Okanagan valley and the city of Calgary with its big sky and stark seasons.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently enrolled in about class race, poetry and resistance, so I’m reading a lot of Dionne Brand. Her poetry really resonates with me. I find her words relating to migration, the insatiable hunger for belonging, and the individual and collective histories we carry to be raw and powerful. I’m in the midst of Fierce Departures, and I love how she lays out the truth so honestly.

Best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

To step into your power as a writer. This piece of advice came from Vivian Hansen, a poet and my writing mentor. It’s something I keep returning to, especially when my confidence or resolve wane.

If you could tell your younger writer-self anything, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid. Your wounds are stories, and they matter even though they’re very different from what you see out in the world.

Which poet or character from a book/movie would you invite to dinner and why?

I would invite the protagonist in my favourite book: Saleem Sinai from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I would love to hear firsthand how his individual life story reflects the entire history of postcolonial India.

Moni Brar is an uninvited settler on land adjacent to where the Bow River meets the Elbow River – traditional Blackfoot territory called Moh’kinstsis, now referred to as Calgary. She is a Punjabi Sikh immigrant and Pushcart-nominated poet exploring diasporan guilt, identity, and intergenerational trauma resulting from colonization. She believes in the possibility of healing through art. Her work appears in PRISM internationalHart House Review, Existere, Hobart, and other publications. After working in 13 countries, she is grateful to call Tuttle Island, also known as Canada, home.

6 Comments

  1. Doris

    Moni – You are brilliant, intense, talented and SO gifted!
    xo

    Reply
    • Moni

      Thank you for kind words, Doris!

      Reply
  2. Sharon blaskovits

    Your words are beautiful and I can feel what you are feeling when I read your work. I’m honoured to call you my friend. Thank you for sharing your life and gift with us ❤️

    Sharon

    Reply
    • Moni

      I appreciate you taking the time to read my work, Sharon. I’m very grateful for your ongoing support! xo

      Reply
  3. dAljeet

    Moni, it is so nice to know so much about you. Beautiful writings, so different thought and expression!!!

    Reply
    • Moni

      Thank you, Daljeet! Your comments mean a great deal to me.

      Reply

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