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YAMINI PATHAK

Image by Andrea Johnson

Ghazal for the Morning Slipped Away

Once you slow-ripened on a tree, a plum purpling to
bruise, assayed, awaited pretty mouths puckered to pluck

The arc of the aubade bent away, while you spun
the stars to sleep, unlock that chest, unloose your fists full of pluck

Afternoon sun held captive in an abandoned well, a contentment
of pigeons is no ruffled tremolo, no flighty pizzicato pluck

Late in the day, drench the air with the sweat of bees, sinew a song
to vein their wings, roses lose their perfume soon after they’re plucked

You’re a stranger in the garden, late-bloomer with gypsy heart
your caravan song, from your spotted tongue, like thorns you pluck

First published in Atlas of Lost Places (Milk and Cake Press).

In My Own Skin

I wear my Goddess skin to work
at the Monday morning meeting. I ride in
on a muscled tiger, the color of sundown trapped
in the slink of a slow-moving
South-Indian river. His fur contrasts nicely with
grey carpet, Georgia O’ Keefe prints
on the standard-issue grey walls. Shocking
pink bodice, silk-striped harem pants, stillettoed
something mean, my chandeliered earrings
pendulum, my nose stud, red
planet casting light on the dark planes
of my face.
My three sets of biceps flex, at the ready
(multi-tasking, baby!)
My hair, cumulonimbus, carries
essence of jasmine and Mumbai-Monsoon into the
chill of the air-conditioned room. I sport my
third eye like a diamond coruscating between
bushy brows but don’t be fooled into believing
I’m all ornamental.
When Petunia from Credit Policy goes into Striking Cobra
pose and venoms her questions at me with a hiss, flames
from my forehead laser forth and raze
her to the ground. She makes a soft pile of ash.
I flick a jasmine bud atop the smoking heap
on my way out.

First published in Atlas of Lost Places (Milk and Cake Press).

Bazaar

At the tailor’s shop my mother and I debate
necklines with a man who thinks our demands immodest

In a dim corner, an apprentice hunch-backed over beaded satin
stabs the gloom with swift strikes of his needle

Outside, the white glitter of afternoon and my boy plays
a staring game with a young camel, the color of sand

legs folded under like tent-poles, tethered opposite the mosque
that dazzles, a white-washed, green-trimmed cake

I can’t decide whose lashes are prettier – camel or boy
My mother tells me in an undertone that the camel

will be slaughtered for Eid-al-Adha, a symbol of the ram that
was a symbol of Abraham’s son

The meat, pearled with garlic, tender with spices will enter the
mouths of people, rinsed by prayer, in a feast of charity

The camel, the needle, the gates to the kingdom of Heaven open

First published in Verse of Silence.

Q&A with poet Yamini Pathak

Describe your “writer-self” in three words.

Curious, compassionate, dreamer.

What is the most challenging aspect about writing for you?

I’m a slow writer. It takes me a while to germinate an idea to the point of becoming a poem. It can feel to me like I’m having starting trouble and the blank page starts to scare me. And then all of a sudden, in an unexpected moment, an opening might flash in my mind. I’ve written an entire poem in my head during a shower. I’m teaching myself to trust in my process and be patient with myself but that is a work-in-progress.

Where, when and how are you inspired to write?

Reading beautiful language excites and inspires me to write. I’m especially excited by innovations in poetic form and like to try invented forms. I love forms like Torrin Greathouse’s Burning Haibun. Also, the many forms and word-play in Evie Shockley’s the new black, for instance. Recently, I’ve been reading Wanda Coleman’s selected poems, Wicked Enchantment, edited by Terence Hayes and I’m just blown away by the different forms that Coleman’s poems take. Aside from her American Sonnets, she has poems in the form of cartoon panels, dream journals, aptitude tests, letters to her deceased sister, and more.

What are you reading right now?

A collection of short stories for children in translation by the great Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore. I love YA books and steal my kids’ library books when I can. I’m also reading generations, a short memoir by Lucille Clifton, and Poets and Writers magazine. Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s new book of essays, World of Wonders, is a book I recently finished reading and loved. It’s part memoir, and part exploration of plant and animal wonders in our natural world.

Best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

Have patience with yourself and pay attention to what you need. When you’re faced with writer’s block, read. Give yourself the time to remain fallow and replenish yourself by reading, and exercise. Do what brings you joy instead of berating yourself. It’s not easy to follow but it’s really good advice.

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

I think my younger writer-self was perfect. Playful, experimental, and joyful. If I may, I’d like to turn this question around and have her advise my current writer-self to stay playful and not get overly worried about writing “worthwhile” poems or getting published.

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

I would love to invite Ross Gay because his work is both compassionate and funny. We could talk about our favorite trees and his community garden, and I think he’d like eating vegetarian food with me. Or Carl Sagan. I know he wasn’t a poet but physics and poetry are cousins in my head. Sagan was a wonderful science writer and I think Cosmos is a brilliant TV series even after all these years.

Yamini Pathak was born and raised in India and now lives in New Jersey. She is the author of the chapbook, Atlas of Lost Places (Milk and Cake Press). Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in Waxwing, Anomaly, The Kenyon Review blog, Jaggery, and elsewhere. A Dodge Foundation Poet in the Schools, she is the poetry editor for Inch (Bull City Press) and an MFA candidate at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Yamini is an alumnus of VONA/Voices (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation), and Community of Writers. Her chapbook can be purchased here:
milkandcakepress.com/product/coming-soon-atlas-of-lost-places/

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