Friday, February 26, 2021

How To Wash A Heart By Bhanu Kapil


How To Wash A Heart

By Bhanu Kapil

Liverpool University Press

ISBN: 978-1-789-62168-6

52 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Hospitality confers a plethora of emotions upon both host and guest. Some of these sensations, like empathy and gratitude, seem obvious. Others, like intrusiveness and resentment, seem less so. Cultural hospitality evolved historically as a survival trait, inhabiting the very center of tribal society. In her new collection of poems, How to Wash a Heart, Bhanu Kapil examines this interesting phenomenon with intimacy and tough-mindedness.

Nothing, if not original, Kapil sets her collection up in five sections of eight untitled poems apiece. The compositions are twenty lines long in the first section and twenty-two lines in the remaining four. She telescopes in and out, engaging in stories, images, scenes, and speculations of an Indian immigrant. Most of the lines are short and they work well lending emphasis and exposing drama.

Kapil is not the protagonist, yet the poems are so deeply personal, so confessional that you wonder at her precise knowledge and the sensitivities conveyed by the narrator. The poet herself was born in Britain and both of her parents were Indian immigrants. She currently resides in both the United States and Great Britain.

Feeling a little like a hoax, Kapil’s protagonist, identified as K, a valued refugee, gets her gratefulness out in the very first poem of the collection. This begins a counterpoint of dueling emotions, which frames the forward motion of the host/guest plot as it unfurls,

Its inky-early outside and I’m wearing my knitted scarf, like

John Betjeman, poet of the British past.

I like to go outside straight away and stand in the brisk air.

Yesterday, you vanished into those snowflakes like the ragged beast

You are.

Perhaps I can write here again.

A “fleeting sense of possibility.” –K.

Keywords: Hospitality, stars, jasmine,


You made a space for me in your home, for my books and clothes,

And I’ll

Never forget that.

Uneasiness pervades K’s guest status. Sexual innuendos appear and disappear. She reaches out to determine her limits and the rules of her new foreign home. Her writing begets a sense of comfort and belonging, but that does not solve the problem. She explains,

As I write these words, stretching out

These early spring or late winter

Mornings with coffee

And TV.

I don’t remember the underneath,

Everything I will miss when I die.

It’s exhausting to be a guest

In somebody else’s house


Even though the host invites

The guest to say

Whatever it is they want to say,

The guest knows the host logic

Is variable.

Prick me.

Before arriving, trauma clutched this refugee. The truth in detail cannot be forgotten, and only temporarily sidestepped. Kapil weaves in the details of K’s past life before, and as she fled the violence endemic to her country. Consider these telltale lines,

When our neighbors

Said go, we fled.

Our hearts beating

Like fish.

Hello, sang Lionel Richie, on the taxi’s orange


My grandfather burned his notebooks

Then scraped the ash

Into a hole

He could button up.

Don’t ask me to remember

The word for zip.

My secret is this:

Though we lost all our possessions

I felt

A strange relief

To see my home explode in the rearview mirror.

Liberal altruism most often needs recognition of good deeds and applause, all of which result from actions closely fitting expectations. Real world venality must suppress itself and conform. The performance should match this insipid world outlook and follow the stage directions as the plot unfolds. Kapil’s protagonist cannily does this at first. Here she dissects her own situation,

Like a thing of beauty

In the pudding basin

Of tap water by the door.

Was I your art?

My involvement with your family

Was an act of volition

And consensus.

The political face you showed

To your neighbors,

For example, was contra-


My links to the community

Of writers I had been part of

Had broken overnight.

And so, I smiled

And laughed when you did.

K details her experience from “treasured pet” to exotic disappointment. She explores “the link/ Between creativity/ And survival.” K gets to the point in the penultimate section of the collection. She says,

So many of my experiences

Were about waiting,

Noting the reserve,

Anxiety and palpable fear

In those guarded


Perhaps you know

What comes next.

Perhaps you don’t.

Perhaps you have lived your life

Without error, fortitude,

Or end.

The more especial the relationship is between guest and host the steeper the denouement and the fall. Western liberality extends only to the border of its precious narrative. Guests who do not live up to presumptive notions break a sacred trust. It’s almost a religious test. Far from the survival origin of neighborly sanctuary (found in throwback cultures of say Afghanistan and Pakistan), the sponsor strikes out in sneering colonial fashion,

The host’s gleaming hair

Responds beautifully to the shampoo

She has set out for us

To share.

What’s mine is yours,

She says with a sweet


I don’t want you taking her out

Without asking me

First, she continues,

Holding her daughter tight

Against her side.

I can smell your body


Kapil’s poetic sequence concludes in prosaic melodrama. The ending gives a topical and political edge to the collection. It does fit the loose plot and even some of the surreal images. However, the remarkable uniqueness of the book becomes really clear through the reading-trek itself, its ambivalent protagonist, and her definitive, if uncomfortable, relationships.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Airborne in Uncertain Sound: How I Became a Poet : Essay by B. Lynne Zika


Airborne in Uncertain Sound:

How I Became a Poet

Essay by B. Lynne Zika

It’s not that I was intimidated by famous people. Or eccentrics. By the time I was nine, I’d had dinner with Werner Von Braun. I’d ridden a hundred-year-old tortoise with a white-haired woman at the Washington Zoo. I’d made friends with the daughter of a fellow named Al who broke into our house one midnight to play a crashing rendition of The Brandenburg Concerto on the downstairs baby grand. So the fact that Felix Molzer had directed the Vienna Boys Choir, the fact that his hands floated above the keyboard with the grace of a saw-whet owl—neither of these was the reason I sat down on the piano bench beside him and began to cry.

Felix taught my sister and me piano. In exchange, our mother cooked him rich Southern dinners and basked (albeit shyly) in his benign adoration. Our mother wore a chignon and deep purple lipstick. She was not difficult to adore. Probably he was handsome: broad shoulders, steel-grey hair. I’d have called him imposing, had I known the word at the time.

I was certainly bent on pleasing him. I practiced every day. B, B, B, thwang. B, B, B—

B, B, B, G, thwang. By 3:00 on Tuesdays I managed an accurate, if halting, recital of that week’s Bach or Haydn minuet. But this particular Tuesday, Felix dispensed with the assignment and asked me to place my thumbs on middle C and play the scales backwards.

I stared at the keyboard. I placed my right pinky on the high C and gave him a descending scale.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Begin with both thumbs on middle C.”

I settled the thumbs and tried to stretch a diminutive right pinky an octave higher.

“No,” he said. “Not descending. Backwards.”

I stood up, took a deep breath, sat down again, and cried.

Years later I would attempt to master the backwards reflexes of driving a car in reverse. If you want to back up toward your right, you must turn the wheel so that the front end of the car moves left. I tried to conceptualize this phenomenon. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made and the more paralyzed I became. My body learned to parallel park only when it disengaged my brain.

Felix Molzer was a bit surprised to find his charge weeping. He took a white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped my eyes. He took me onto his lap. The long, white hands glided together and rested on middle C. Then, like an owl opening its wings, they feathered across the keyboard, one hand flying up the scale; the other, down. They landed, in simple precision, on the low and high C.

During the following week, my hands learned their flight. I also carefully prepared my next failure, the one that would end my career with the piano and begin my career with—well, a different sort of keyboard.

As our homework, Felix had asked us for an original composition. I wanted to create an accompaniment to a poem I had written. The music was to complement the words—to underscore them—not as a melody for a lyric but as a subtext to the spoken word. It was impossible. I couldn’t even manage a bar.

The next Tuesday, as I was creeping down the stairs toward certain humiliation, I over-heard my father in the living room.

“And she told me,” he said, “that it wouldn’t work because she could not make the piano sound like a rabbit!” Felix and my father laughed (and laughed).

Then my father recited the poem:

The rabbit has a habit

of sitting on his heels,

and when I see him doing it,

I wonder how it feels.

I knew they were pleased. I could not tame the piano, but I had tried. I knew also that the words were clear, that the sound of them ruffled the air, as if a hand were passing over a silent keyboard, as if a bird stopped for a moment in mid-flight.

B. Lynne Zika’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary publications, including globalpoemic, Poetry East, and The Anthology of American Poets. In addition to editing poetry and nonfiction, she worked as a closed-captioning editor for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. She received a Pacificus Foundation Literary Award in short fiction. Her photography has received several awards, including the 2020 Top Creator Award from Viewbug. Her images may be viewed at

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Somerville's Robson Lemos: A Brazilian Chef with a taste for the theatre

I was glad to catch up with Robson Lemos-- a chef and now a theatre producer.  He is one of the many artists in " The Paris of New England" who have an interesting and eclectic background. 

How did you discover Somerville, and how has it been for you?

I arrived in the USA in 2004 -- for an immigrant it is difficult to build the feeling of belonging. In 2007, I came to visit a friend at Union Square in Somerville and there was a summer festival going on. The artist on stage was Brazilian and invited me to sing a song, and from there I fell in love with the city.

The following year I moved to the city and started participating in various artistic events in the city. Somerville is a city that not only offers spaces for artists but also for immigrant artists, and that is why I have always felt welcome.

In 2015 I was invited to participate in a culinary course in the city. So I started to participate in several events in the city as a chef. I am part of the culinary group "Nibble Kitchens" in Somerville, Ma.

You are from Brazil--but you often say you are from the Brazilian state, Bahia. Is there different cultural feel to Bahia?

I always say I am from Bahia but when I participate in international interviews it is difficult to explain deeply about Brazilian culture so I talk more about Brazil in general. But Bahia, in particular, is the Brazilian state with the largest black concentration outside Africa. Although I am not black, here in the USA I am considered a person of color. I grew up within an Afro-Brazilian culture.

You are an actor?

Yes, I am an actor and that is my great passion. My first contact with theater I was 13 years old and it was through a method called: theater of the oppressed. I discovered that we are all oppressed in some way and the basis of creation is in the breakdown of oppression. So being an actor for me is to express, create, speak and use art as a form of education.

In 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, we had the Black Lives Matter Movement and the mayor of Somerville declared that racism is a matter of public health.

I identified with this statement because in addition to being an artist and a chef, I also work in an organization called the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers and became a community health worker. In various training courses I realized how the racial issues interfere with public health issues.
Using art and education as an instrument of empowerment would initially be a good way to combat racism.

Tell us about the play you are working on?

In "Omolu" I bring African mythology to tell a story of discrimination.

Omolu was an African God who was abandoned by his mother and lived wandering around Africa. He had a skin disease and covered his whole body with straw.

Omolu traveled around many lands and met several other Gods and nobody accepted him until he was found by YEMANJA, queen of the sea. She adopted Omolu as her son and healed her wounds with seawater. Oxala, the father of all, recognized Omolu as the God of healing.

Omolu is a history of inclusion using elements of African mythology with a Brazilian touch. Initially, I thought it would be a concert but because of the pandemic I decided to make the recordings separately-- as a form of documentary. This project involves theater, music, dance, capoeira, visual arts, culinary , and political speeches with history teachers...

We started doing outreach in December, rehearsals in January, recording thematic in February and editing in March.

My intention is to offer this project as a gift to the city of Somerville, so that future generations know that Somerville welcomes and includes all the stories, my story and the story of Omolu.

Brazil has the largest black population on the American continent and obviously reflects a lot on cultural expression. As in the USA, Brazil faces problems with racism. The Black Lives Matter movement will also influence racial movements in Brazil in the future.