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Sophia Naz

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Sophia Naz calls herself an in-between, an inhabitant of the hyphen. A South Asian-American poet who has lived in the US since 1989, she was born in Karachi in 1964 to migrant parents from Allahabad and Bhopal, where she spent summer vacations since the age of three. Obsessed with dismantling the concept of “otherness” into one big yarn, her writing often dwells in the liminal, engaging with linguistic, cultural, religious, temporal, personal and geographical borders. She herself crossed quite a few onerous customs before moving to New York at the age of twenty-six, after living in Thailand for two years.

During her time in Manhattan she studied Sumi-e painting with Sensei Koho Yamamoto and garnered critical acclaim for her role as a deranged immigrant housewife in Watchman, Bina Sharif’s play at the Theater for the New City, before moving to California, where she currently resides with her husband Raam Pandeya, a former journalist, Hindi poet and master of an ancient healing practice known as Kayakalpa, which she has imbibed and practiced for the last two and a half decades. Although external events have inevitably influenced her work, Sophia believes that a daily practice of introspective solitude, a kind of inner alchemical refining of consciousness, is the crux of her poetic mother lode.


The Names of Birds

To write the names of birds you must begin
before the beginning
before form or shape or color steeping
under night’s black wing
from here, a name drops, turning cogs
consonant as claw of nomenclature, digging its way in
to savage silence, that primal dark crow-
bars your sleep
a peace in pieces

Until morning opens its white, sightless eye
and blind as love, a
koel calls
the kalaf of her kaaf softened
into humid syllable
still twists a dagger in, draws
a kiss of blood

Midday brings the unemployed
messenger pigeons, now doves mending
a dropped stitch in time
knit & purl, knit & purl
gray gargoyles gurgling the world’s whirl
in Pollock-sized dollops
on the busy canvas of sidewalks

Seeking refuge you come inside
this room, not unlike a cage

where myth-bitten mynahs
make mouthfuls of bite-sized songs
you feed on your childhood for a long long time
fearing this light-limbed joy
would collapse
under the weight of a name

Evening is the face
of a blanket electrocution
junkie sky injected

with a thousand neon needles
As the crepuscular corpse cools
from violence to violet, they swoop in
the cleaning crew, so cruel
to call them vultures
the noble and humble that consume
what would poison pristine

While you are reading
about a bird with limitless wings
the one the ancients named
Simurgh, flight and soul
twinned synonyms

repeat this
until the bird
and its meanings
are merged as One.

Ode to Opposable Thumbs

When the spent maternal
nipple slipped
away from baby fingers

There you were
flesh and plumb
perfect plop in mouth

That cave would remain
your domain for years
even now, the passage is marked

By two strapping bucks
guarding the gate
of the gazelle’s

leap into metaphor

Flicking a marble
the size of a blue-eyed planet
fleeing a blind universe

Where would I be
without you, thumbs, wrestling
on childhood’s tabletops

You fought to make
my imprint, while I flooded
your labyrinths

With ink, stamped
at roadside notaries
consent under duress

The rule of thumb
all around me
illiterate, oppressed

Are we not all thumbnails
Filed away and forgotten
Under Time’s thumb?

The Gulabi Guavas of Allahabad

You came to this fabled
confluence from the land of green
and white guavas, hard-fleshed brood
cousin from across, hot under
the collar, haste-carved border
that marked you as other

The hawker in Civil Lines
outside El Chico’s was making
a pyramid of winter’s
bright blushing beauties
singing their praises
in your dead father’s cadence

The first time he flayed
Illahabadi amrood open
offered you a wound-pink cheek
with an unforgettable fragrance
that is when you knew
the tenor of your hunger
what it means to come back
take a bite out
of your own lost history.

Entry Wound

You were born on a landlocked ship. A blue umbilicus wound around your throat like a future suicide. The last inhabitant of your mother’s uterus. Caesura. Her belly was a welted minefield. The bomb was time itself.

You were born on a landlocked ship on the banks of naphtha and polished concrete. Belled by tall palms sleeping in their uniform cummerbunds. Marital and martial are anagrams. You were born visibly invisible, an ode to opposites.

You were born on a close shave. In a room full of iodine ghosts. On a stream of betel juice and spit.
Sanguis draconis. Your eyes were touchstones. They would change color before you crawled. Both cat and woman. A feral oxide.
You were born on a landlocked ship on Lily Bridge Road next to the Old Race Course ringed by torsos of trees wearing the eternal cursive of red ochre and white lime plastered like a caste on their waists. It was a quarter to three in the morning. The color of a broken silence.

Poem for a Missing Man

We share a birthday, you and I
and no doubt countless others
on this divided subcontinent
designated as each other’s
unnatural enemies

Nations are expert at making
myth-meat out of men
even as they walk all over
us puny ants

They made you a Mahatma
but I like to dream your middle name, broken in two
equal cheeks of kindness, even though
Karam-Chand was deported yesterday
by his fraternal twin

All the moons are
ruthless now, narrow curvatures of scythes
A sea of eyes, symmetrical cemeteries
blind as albino piano keys play on

A martial music in the mindless key
of jingoism tolls

for us all.

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  1. A remarkable, passionate book that must be read. review by George Szirtes on 7/8/2017

    Sophia Pandeya is a lover of language, of the sound in the mouth, of the tenderness yet sharpness of wit, and of the metamorphic nature of words. Her poems are a joy to read for sheer vocal and intellectual pleasure. But she can move fiercely and jaggedly when addressing the savagery of national and gender politics. ‘You are made of cotton and pause. Day is made of full stops. Nights are off the record,’ she says in her prose poem ‘Pecking Order’. It is in the end poetry that offers the redress: ‘the Promethean eyes of the poem are witness / emblem of both fire and water / a force you cannot murder,’ she sings in ‘Flood’. Pointillism is a remarkable, passionate book that must be read.

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