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A Nation (Imagined) by Natasha Moni

Cover of "A Nation (Imagined)" by Natasha Moni: a pile of stamped and postmarked envelopes.

A Nation (Imagined)

By Natasha Kochicheril Moni

Floating Bridge Press, 2018

48pp, $10.

Chanted Lament in the House of Memory
Review by Michelle Reale

Imagine the chimera of a loved one that haunts an imagined homeland. Or imagine a corner of the heart whose energy comes from memory, nostalgia, the gilt we often edge with our reminis-cences transforming everything into all smooth edges, however blurred. In Moni’s A Nation (Imagined), the author takes us through an almost surreal journey out of time, in which memory carves the psyche with raw emotion; present time makes accommodation and the two overlap. We are privy to a poignant longing as evidenced by what’s missing. The lost and the dead often leave behind the quotidian remnants of a life lived, such as a plate chipped from being loved too much, a stamp collection, trees that stand as silent sentries to all that take place in their orbit. In “Discovering Your Stamp Collection in a Shoebox, I Remove an Unopened Letter Addressed to You and Decide Not to Read It,” she writes:

Tomorrow

Our madrone

Becomes a cord

What will keep

(our heat)

Generations beyond your brood
the bantams yield more
roosters than I can manage

These poems read like sepia-toned photographs brought to life, or a crackling reel of film jog-ging the soggy sponge of memory, heavy-laden while at the same time porous as lacework. Rice, almond milk, turmeric, and the image of a giraffe who stands alone in a faraway place are sensory details that give hints of adventure like a soft puff of breath on the neck, the shadowy presence of longing and loss, laced with remorse for those who leave us too soon, by choice or the vagaries that are part of fickle human existence. She continues in “Discovering Your Stamp Collection in a Shoebox, I Remove an Unopened Letter Addressed to You and Decide Not to Read It,”

In case you do not
Understand    read  I am leaving

You    please unwind your voice
from my inner        ear

Moni’s touch is deft. The poetry benefits from her light touch, the images doing double duty as they evoke a place never named, a nation not located on any specific map, a region and a peo-ple we attempt to locate with the heart and mind. We witness the familiar and the unfamiliar, the odd in-between place of memory, particularly as it relates to childhood or a love gone side-ways and those we want to be protected by or from:

Confession by night I will join them
In their festival of light.

The silence you left
deafens—

each moment a thousand bees
buzzing toward a never-found hive

a war/no war/no map
but memory     your palms

shaking flower from strategy
how did I ever/did we ever agree

(to this)

(“Discovering Your Stamp Collection in a Shoebox, I Remove an Unopened Letter Addressed to You and Decide Not to Read It,”)

Characteristic of all of Moni’s poems in this chapbook, there is just enough obscurity, a bit of grease on the lens, for the poems to have a hint of mystery—-a vague sense of displacement, requiring, deliciously, the participation of the reader to create personal meaning. These poems are visceral and lush, part prayer, part chanted lament. The warp and weft of the poems situate us warm and humid house of memory in another nation, feet planted firmly on the ground, whether or not that terra firma is real or imagined.

Michelle Reale is an associate professor at Arcadia University. She is the author of nine collections of poetry in additon to the forthcoming Season of Subtraction (Bordighera Press, 2019) and Confini: Poems of Refugees in Sicily (Cervena Barva Press, 2020). She is the Managing and Founding Editor of Ovunque Siamo: New Italian-American Writing.