A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta

Source: Purchased/GBF
Paperback, 46 pgs.
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A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta is the migration of the Parsi, the immigration of a young woman from India to America and the feeling of exile and belonging. Several centuries pass in this slim collection of poems, but like the book cover, each person in these poems is on a journey, one that seems to take them away from where they were to a new destination. However, these journeys end up being very circular, bringing them back to the culture and the past they have tried to leave behind. The past is integral to who they are, as is the migratory journey they embark upon.

In the opening poem, “Refugees,” readers are taken to the migration of Parsis in 917 AD in which “the boat is too small” but the past recedes until “the joy and blood that had come before/already turning to myth./” But even in this flight from one place to another, there is a deep-seated worry that things will not change for the better, but Mehta leaves us on the shore of the white beach with their hope. In “Sleep,” we spend time with this family in its new land, leaning into the hope that they can belong on this land, even with the traditions they carry. But their “Welcome” is not as comforting. While they can retain their traditions and the myths of the past, as well as their religion, they are unable to share that with those outside their group.

Mehta is taking us on a journey from her ancestors to the present day, and woven throughout these poems is the angst created by holding onto tradition and letting go to belong somewhere. In “The Towers of Silence,” the narrator says, “But there are places/that I long to describe/in a language I do not know./And the Towers, by our not being in them,/that is our sacrifice.//” These poems speak to the deep sacrifices of migrants as they move from the home they know to a new home that pushes back against their history and traditions.

from "Decorum" (pg. 12-14)

I do not know what I should do in a desert;
You cannot assume anything of yourself
Until you have experienced fire.

A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta is just one look at migration and the sacrifices that entails, as well as the need to belong in a new home. There is a fencing off of the past and culture that occurs internally in some migrants, while there is also the fencing off of cultures and groups of people in their new home — separating them from others and preventing them from sharing their own stories and cultures. Mehta is a master storyteller who takes her poetry into the past to demonstrate the richness of a future in a new country.

RATING: Cinquain

Mailbox Monday #609

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

A story of THE WORLD before the FENCE by Leeya Mehta, which I purchased from Finishing Line Press.

A Story of The World Before The Fence is a lush, lyrical study of memory and history.  These poems move deftly between the mystical and the known, inviting readers to travel backwards in time and forwards into themselves.  Each of us struggles with the heavy-handedness of the past: its merciless shaping of the larger world and, of course, its unrelenting squeeze on our individual lives.  Through intense reflection and beautiful invention, Leeya Mehta’s poems offer a kind of second sight.

–Tim Seibles

Whether tracing the 10th century journey of religious refugees from Persia to a tender but continually ambivalent asylum in India or dwelling in the complicities and solidarities of our own era, this is a troubled look at belonging, where belonging is ever “like loving a corpse” among “history’s sad funerals”. Mehta’s compassion and clear, unhurried tone leaven the seriousness and ambition of the work’s intellectual horizons, and an emotional power and turbulence as deep as that in certain moods of its Anacostia River: “brown knot of sludge, // a dragon aching.”

–Vivek Narayanan

Through centuries and across continents, Leeya Mehta evokes the transgenerational trauma of her ancestors, the Zoroastrian Parsis, to narratively structure an intimate, feminocentric experience of cultural and personal displacement. Her haunting poems, with their hard-won wisdom and exquisite imagery, serve as “a warning that the screws of love sit deep in the bone” despite—yet, perhaps, because of—the various forms of exile that complicate identities, relationships, and senses of place.  A Story of the World Before the Fence acknowledges “how barriers can keep / wandering spirits separate from those they love,” but it nevertheless consoles us with the miracle that is laughter: a universal language that can still anchor us to one another and help us learn to forgive ourselves for what we have lost along the way.

–Randi Ward

Warbler by Jane Schapiro

Steeped though it is in grief and loss, glory shines through in Jane Schapiro’s new poetry collection, Warbler. As she writes in the book’s epigraph, Tears are the soul bathing itself. There is much melancholy beauty in the book’s dirges, and toward the end, splendor has the last word. In the book’s penultimate poem, azaleas bloom in an explosion of color, from the dark “tangle of shrubs / that spawned such a glorious sight.”

—Rennie McQuilkin, CT Poet Laureate (2015-2018)

Warbler, Jane Schapiro’s new book of poems, is an achingly beautiful paean to family, friendship, love, and memory. It is also a searing reminder that loss, illness, and grief must play their parts as well.

The book has an organic feel, from line to line, from poem to poem. We are pulled into human connection and human frailty. We hear the rabbi say, “Even the blank spaces / are God given” so we keep looking as we move into middle age for peace, for less anxiety, for less pain. Some days “in the mirror, / she’ll spot her former self like a star, / reflecting a fire long since burned out.” And then, “the veil lifts, / reveals the world as a luminous bride . . . / Ah, sweet life. Sweet, inviting life. ”These poems stay in the mind and heart and invite rereading again and again. Warbler sings of hard and beautiful truths in a singular voice.

—Deirdre Neilen, Editor The Healing Muse

What did you receive?