Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: Anthem By Kirun Kapur


Love begins in a country
Where oranges weep sweetness
And men piss in the street.

Your hands are forever binding
Black strands in a plait. Your mother’s
Childhood friend has steeped

Your skin in coconut oil, tucked
Her daughter beside you – the night
Is a womb, live with twins.

Heat’s body presses every body.
Sharp chop of your uncle’s cough
Clocks the hours; your sister’s washing,

The rush of your thoughts. Morning
Is nine glass bangles hoisting sacks
Of sugar from the floor. I’m not talking

About a place, but a country:
Its laws are your mother, its walls
Are your dreams. The flag it flies

Is your father, waving.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ recent novel Azúcar, set on a fictional Caribbean island, gives a seductively luminous description of ‘home’ as viewed from the perspective of an émigré, a stranger in a strange land, who finds peace in the vibrant, polychrome, open-hearted character of Fumaz’s people and culture.

And in a poem of displacement and identity, qualified, ironically, by an approximation to contentment, Kirun Kapur’s narrator finds home in the nebulous hinterland of a far ‘country’ whose flag carries no dominion, except over family and a sense of shared heritage. Kapur’s own peripatetic origins – Hawaii, South East Asia, North America – filter identity through experience of deracination, and it may be that the heartland she claims in ‘Anthem’ is the culmination of a journey whose destination is less important than the tokens of love and cultural inheritance that inhere to the fabric of belonging.

‘Anthem’ is a paean to the flag of belonging, a song to the beneficence of ‘home’ as it is harvested in the warm glow of the domestic quotidian. Kapur’s metaphor-replete tercets revel in the shabby counterpoint of a seductive terrain, whose ‘oranges weep sweetness’ as men piss in generous pastiche.

The narrator’s vision is compelling: conceived in the languid rhythms of a dog-day afternoon, her language seamlessly conflates the landscape of the day with moods, impulses, hopes, to create an unlikely serenity out of the ‘sharp chop’ of a random cough, the gentle kneading of oil into skin, and the image of the father waving in the distance.

‘Anthem’ is taken from Visiting Indira Ghandi’s Palmist, published by Elixir Press, Denver (2015).

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