Saturday, April 20, 2013

Poem: Prageeta Sharma

Prageeta Sharma,
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These are troubled times, but then one could easily say all times are so, depending upon one's perspective. There is an unsettled air that Prageeta Sharma (1972-) captures in her poem below, which also feels very appropriate to this moment, particularly in terms of its thematization of violence, particularly in the presence, in this sonnet, of firearms, and in the interpersonal violence it depicts, beginning in a dream (not, curiously, a nightmare), that bleeds out of that oneiric space into the lyric itself, into the speaker's interiority.

Read more broadly, it touches upon the underlying fear of the unknown--events, persons, the Other--that undergird our contemporary moment, this society, with its "dark-skinned male" or "Muslims" or "immigrants" a stand-in for any and every evil, every problem, every crisis, and state and corporate violence and surveillance, the violence of elites and capitalism itself, elude sustained mass, public critique. Only unlike the poem, whose 14-line sonnet form can contain the excess that threatens to spill over, there is no similar container for everyday reality. We would do well to listen to Prageeta here: "things are unexpected, people are terrible / sometimes," and "Events that are pleasantly unnoticed / are not about adventures."

This is the kind of knowledge that poetry often can best convey: like a lens that zooms in and simultaneously can pan all the way up and out. But you have to look through it. Look.


This rather tall Indian man shot me in a dream;
I thought I could just mosey up on him
and say in a protective but assertive voice,
I am a Hindu and he would put down his gun.
But he said you are my enemy and my unmarried hands
stung only for an instant, realizing this immensity
was fake immensity. And it goes to show you
that things are unexpected, people are terrible
sometimes. Events that are pleasantly unnoticed
are not about adventures, not about paranoia or silk turbans.
If you are my gun, put it between the mattresses, it will rest
underneath us like a holiday inside eternity. A firefly
    admits to light,
a ray gun, obfuscated, we both tumble before I look
the rather tall man in his angry Indian face.

Copyright © Prageeta Sharma, from The Opening Question, New York: Fence Books, 2004. All rights reserved.

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