Reviewed by Rochelle Potkar
Woman by the Door
by Kashiana Singh
Apprentice House Press
126 pages (Paperback), Feb 2022, ISBN-13 : 978-1627204040, $13.99
The home can be a solace of innocent memories, a map of a treasure hunt of wonder, the GPS of childhood experiences, and the coming-of-various-ages. It can hold both the discoveries of light and darkness and the first lessons of many things. It can also ape the spatial semantics of all our later homes and places of existence.
Kashiana Singh’s Woman by the Door will make you want to go back to youth, growing up, and childhood innocence. since there is no portal to walk back into time or a magical wardrobe into a parallel universe, just a deep dive over thresholds through her poetry should be enough to awaken a certain kind of nostalgia.
Singh’s finesse of being an alchemist, deductionist, and chef-in-verse is clear, as she creates a culinary of visceral sensoria via her stanzas and verses.
What I glean in this book is a yearning so deep that it informs and shapes even her present-day life, uprooting psychedelic associations of her remembered past from the solar plexus of cognizance, where the acts of birth, perishing, and its in-between states remain amplified, making this book a miniature institute of inventive inferences.
Unrelenting in her lyrics and focus on existential salvage, even as she recruits the simplest of kitchen counter ingredients from eggs, potatoes, herbs to mint, her lines are clear:
I am a texture of overcast ginger and garlic
of endless appetites inside bland curries
My favorite scenes are
where herbs are laid out
on newspaper sheets, basil/mint, coriander, parsley
Where lines like -‘She tasted for us, in small bites which/her fingers broke into unaware mouths.’ is an earthy evocation, a litany of recollection.
Singh is a family-person in the world, besides all other things she may be. And for her the act of cooking is akin to praying, many-a-times the aroma of pungent onions, garlic over fingertips wafting out of time spans, losing gravity but never gravitas to become laced with familial inter-textualities.
With phrases like ‘they say that the lifespan/of a video tape is 25 years/ then pixilation sets in’; or ‘we left behind, each a woven/abode to corpses of my exiles’ and ‘an argument/a lavender poultice/under my pillow’, the poet brings in a tango, interweaving a persistence of rumination seeped in new and old worlds with urgency toward transience.
‘Meditations on Egg’, ‘Parents’, and ‘Green Tea is only a Placebo’ are some of the poems where she transcends from samsaric batter whipping up a philosophical fare into a trajectory of reverie, where one is reminded of not only aging with grace but writing gracefully about that evolution.
‘Becoming Planets’ is a rare poem that leaves the cluster of familial associations the other poems hold to go out into the galaxy, becoming a women-charactered piece, where retrograde planets play old goddesses.
In the poem, ‘Happiness – refrigerator magnets’ the poet wears many roles – there are many women at this fridge door – a different one each time, other than the mother archetype, who rebuilds worlds through the remnants and residues of her grownup children’s conversations.
My only grouse is that some of the poems are heavy and read like lyrical prose, yet follow the line break of poetry. They might have as well been structured on the space of the page as prose poems or haibun with a dash of haiku, because Singh is an effective haijin too, published many times in Rattle magazine.
Singh’s canvases act as refuges of reflection on the passage of time, offering standpoints on abandoned primordial situations and sites. The ingredients coopted in her lines come from many pots and pans of Asian experiences to bring home the association of food with familiarity.
Her world is one of tactile touch, a cut, a gash of root, a crush and crunch with mortar and pestle, a churn of memory as gutted between the blades of a food grinder as ever.
These are new recipes of remembering then. That’s what she leaves us with. This book becomes an unsullied thieving visit into the kitchens of old houses that string scents of a memory of existence and visceral tastes of futuristic fructification.
About the reviewer: Rochelle Potkar is the author of Four Degrees of Separation and Paper Asylum – shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020. Her poetry film Skirt was showcased on Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland. Her short story collection Bombay Hangovers released in 2021 to rave reviews.