was born in Nottingham and raised in Southern California. She holds a PhD from University College London and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Her books include Reading Mina Loy’s Autobiographies: Myth of the Modern, an edition of the Collected Poems of Hope Mirrlees (Carcanet, 2011), and two books of her own poetry published by Shearsman: The Marble Orchard and Eidolon, winner of the Ledbury Forte Prize for Best Second Collection. Most recently she edited the Selected Poems of Nancy Cunard (Carcanet, 2016). Her essays and reviews have appeared in the Guardian, The Los Angeles Review of Books, the Financial Times and the Times Literary Supplement. She is currently writing a novel about wheat, which is partly set during India’s Green Revolution in the 1960s. She is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Liverpool where she co-directs Liverpool’s Centre for New and International Writing and is a BBC New Generation Thinker, regularly appearing on Radio 3.
/ Archive for a DaughterNovember 1972, DerbyA dance card embalmed in sweat. Her ruthless curve of palmmowing the carpet into sheaves before a gas fire.Liquidescent virgin in a purple dress.Oil paint, shaded avocado, umbrella sun-wings.Box 2, folder 20 ‘Early Married Life’a single page:rectoa fashionable centre-partingversoconsonants: midnight affair nuclear affair bleach affairwatermark indecipherable[But here we are jumping ahead]The archivist notes that no exact birth date is known.An already Western dressed 6-year-old reads the headlines of English newspapers for party tricks.Her black eyes are blunt and unequivocal like the prophecies of pharaohs.In a Punjabi village, she and her impeccable mother, gemstoned, oracular, princess a vernal causeway.Box 1, folder 2 ‘Emigration’The BOAC stewardesses Max Factor crinkled basketsof sweets to soothe the girl’s swinging, impatient feet.Aviation—a risky endeavour in 1963—levels a curse at her progeny.Aerophobia—her own daughter’s—fear of the air between home and exile collapsing.Box 1, folder 7 ‘Education’Homelands Grammar School For GirlsMiss Moore leans across an oak sea and parquets a line of future mothers.Her bovine sympathies, neatly pressed, tentacle towards the only Indian in the class.The Georgian battlecross marking her forehead, kindly and thoughtfully, segregates.The girl bounds wildly through the Public Library—Huxley to her 11-year-old mindsuggests individuality—but the Savage’s feet recommend no one specific exit.folders 8-17[Unbound Notebook, mostly unreadable]I thought I could become a doctor and asking found I could not think to ask to become anythingThe archivist notes that these pages are not continuous. Refer to Box 2, folder 10‘Correspondence’.A photograph of a prospective husband and several handwritten credentials.Box 3, folder 1 ‘Notes on Motherhood’Nursery—pram—groceries—pram—doctor’s visit—cucumbers in half-lengths——over each shoulder some conspicuous intellect—Husband-academic, wife-typist.She door-to-doors Hoovers, Avon, thick rosaries of factory lace,while her children pop tic-tacs for invented ailments in plastic houses.Nottingham hurls snowballs at her black turbaned gentleman.Soaked typescript, fair copy of a life—When she asked her parents for a spare suitcase for an exodus, they repliedmy child, nothing is ever spareBox 4, folder 1 ‘Exile’1985, Vancouver—ablaze with cherry blossoms from here to the kindergarten.We arrived with one steel pot, a bag of lentils and an onion.folder 21987, North Hollywood—submarine fences root Thanksgiving potatoes, one a piece.My daughter reads Laura Ingalls Wilder to her menagerie of dolls. Raft sails calmly on.folder 31989, Oxnard—Gifted children are purse strings. We mind their collegiate years with interest.El Rio wizens to a stockpile of citrus and rental agreements.folder 41995, Ventura—Bibled to real estate, gold blazers cinch round a wade of blonde, leathered adulterers.The neighbours tend their god-plots of lawn and hedge.Box 5, folder 1 ‘Drs Parmar’She saunas with the ladies of the Gold Coast—one Japanese ex-comfort woman, one savvy señora goldbuckled and multifranchised.Stanford, Northwestern, Harvard, London, Cambridge—and when my husband’s sisters weptbecause I had no sons I said I have two doctors (one of body, the other of mind)and sent my uterus via Federal Express to the village, with my compliments!On the verso, written in ink, is a page from Box 1, folder 8 [misplaced]I remember clearly when I knew that I would one day die.I was on the toilet and I was 11.The bathroom was white and oblivious.
/ The Octagonal Tower‘History is the love that enters us through death; its discipline is grief.’—Anne MichaelsI.Whatever rage has come through these sealed doors,and scalded us black and frayed, we have no name for.We cannot explain the quiet, sleepless shift of whispers,a procession of shrouds along our corridors,or the diverted eyes that cloud to see a row of winter oaks outsideshocked in their dendritic fizz. And if we do know it,it is in the blood, in this terrible synapse of sky, in the road away.From our house we drive down through a sunken valleywhere, like a crypt, it is forever the hour of the dead.You have always worn the wheel, pushed your hands and wriststhrough its axes, as though it were a shackle. Driven, hunched.It is the same—the sting of yucca and eucalyptus, a vein of pinkbougainvillea purged in hot pulses off rooftops—a fragrant massacre—and the same steady road you drive every time afraid to speak,afraid to ask when I will leave you alone in that house with your wife.I translate your favourite song in my mind: This song of mine, no one will sing.This song of mine that I sing myself will die tomorrow with me.An October night, 1975. A sudden rain has liquefied the earth.Mud isn’t enough. There is a word you use that means more than mud,it is the sound of a foot, sunken to the ankle, pulling itself out—the awful suck of uprooting. Like a scream, it is the fear of standingso long that you might stay and sink forever. This sound trailsbehind you and your brother as you walk the fields one last time.You will leave and not return for ten years, to marry my motherwho you’ve not yet met. Your four bare feet make an agreementwith the earth, to remember. It prints its own response in your shadows.II.Holidays are uncertain times. The marble face of an old king’s griefdeflects the spectacle of his queen’s death in each perfect tessera.The Taj rises above the Jammuna, doubles paradise in the mastery of slaves.Holidays are uncertain times; their hands are cut off arms thrown upin celebration. Now they too mourn, and skyward pray to phantom limbsin the gardens of heaven, alone to pluck and preen.They are carted away without ceremony, along with the remains of stonethat, like teeth, fall out of swooning heads. The funeral begins.Mumtaz, hollow as a bride, is veiled in by her white, carved lid.No one knows when you were born. They think it was an autumn month.At five you asked where your mother was. Your soot lashes pooled with fear.Gone to your grandmother’s. Later you found her picture—a woman propped up, freshly dead, her hands emptied of the past.And you, seated on her lap, two years old, holding herand what held her forever in that exposure.III.The road widens past tracts of arched houses; you drive faster and grip the wheel.I say I won’t leave till after the New Year, but by now it doesn’t matter.Your knuckles are bloodless, and your stoic eyes are the calm surface of a timepiece.Shah Jehan, imprisoned in a tower by his son, was sent a gold platterthe day of the coup with the head of his chosen heir upon it.Seeing this the old king fell, knocked the teeth out of his head.For eight years he watched the Taj from his window, from across the river,in a diamond mounted in the wall that reflected it a million times over.The soft marble hands of his wife extended to him, to the empty casket beside her.When the river filled, he walked across it.When the door opens, only one of us leaves. I watch your car until it is far downthrough the shadows of trees. The road receives you, and the house receives you,as does the galley of water, the trimmed hedge, the cold, sterile cell.In your wallet, you carry a picture of my mother, from before my birth,when she was only yours. Her pinks match the pinks of flowers;she bows her head into the branch and smiles, as beautiful as a queen.Love is incidental, time-bound. It is the memory of love we love.It is the memory that fattens on pain—of these small deathsand these stone walls. The crown that has sunken from your earsand hangs around your neck is all that remains.
/ (Untitled)i.It was not me, but a phantomwhose oatha variable starmoldering in the reliquaryis doubt.I have not unsealed love, its taprootmouthing blacknessnor seized the fairer womanto purge from her her song—This hell-house of primogeniture, bookishand pale quartering what is alsoits own and only rulethis: fireand the fire that comes from fire.ii.Helen, dispiritedcamera-bound Helenfetching the paper from the front lawn in her dressing gown a lot of the timeand knowing when the phone will ringseconds before by the click of its currentDemi-goddess—not woman, not goddisembodied like a bowl turned over and its loaf thumping outHelenQueen of never-mind-the-time, of you can’t run on gin for all the everlastingAnd suchmoths, broiling airlessly in a sodium bulbsmell of it on her front porchlights on homeiv.I do not insist that we retain the old namesI would know youever, light as the seedv.Marketting the daylong detente for a sliver of profitdoes not appear to bother the kingdom of saintsAscetics her brothers—Spartans whose only god is [insert herethe death of eleven days]Wash the man by the road who turnsand seeing or not seeingis soundless, animalwash himhe is your brotherenter his encampment (of fuel-scarred fabrics)and listen to his black pronouncementsvoid of exhaustscramble upthe highway’s escarpmentinviolate, goodwash himorbe without brothersxix.‘As a wheel on its axis turns, this book unwitting to itself,Around the idea of thee’. [Whitman]Helen of Sparta of Troy in Egyptof no known address of no known nationalityrefugee of no known conflictstateless without propertydisappearing under a veilof treasonxxv.Helen is instrumentalLaws permit me to refuse your advancesalthough I have eaten the salt from your tableAs for your hospitality—I like it anywhere just fineso long as I’m coming or goingHelen is not all butscattered like grainVituperate ghost meaningto greet herself to make roomfor herself at the tableto eat a meal of dry meat and vinegarHelen is not vitalxxx.I am not the virgin mother lamenting in the hills above EphesusI am the invective injuring these dry plains studded with stone pinesI am the lateral commemorate of waras the steps up to my hiding place suggestI am the birther of sacrifice received back intothe earth heavenly rockfaceif you knew my real name you would notuse it so lightlyxxxii.An idea is not a woman but many womenthe composite of an ideaOurs is an older civilization re-madedramatis personae recast by different troupesrebuilt in the styleof Ionian capitalsand fluted pilastersput through the ringer of the magisteriumwe see the real Helenis the false weis the eidolonxxxvii.You are wild-eyedYou are HelenThe grey-blue dawnthe Rosey-fingered Dawnturning the snaking cloudinto the body of a goddessraising her thin spearwe glide acrossthe blue-eyed morningchanging flagsas a woman changesher lover as oftenas anotherlover permitswe glide acrosszones of conflictThe wind lays down a roadacross the waveshiding us in a mooring of fogflanks of earth lightenlike fantasy like Leda’s bodyto make way for our white shipof a hundred tiersand some thousand menThis parthenous soupof buried citiesheld close we make outthe scent of their jointsthe only real thingin an invented eschatologyof free willDid I mention the Indiana cornfrom whence I cameand its hot unendingness?Proud like crosses on a prairie landscape.Corn madnessindustrial corn a devilbleating like a harpmade of 22 karat goldHigh Fructose Syrupinfantile mass delusion godsugar fix of empireHelen makes out the morning freezein the stillness of a suspended harvestwhat eviction has nature madein retaliation for these unkillable crops?Out out for the outing acres of frozen heads.xlvi.‘Put first before the rest as light for all and entrance-song of all,That of eidolons.’ [Whitman]No one aliveremembersthe unrecordablewarmth of mybreath
/ (Untitled)l.Helen as a beam of moonlight caught sidewaysHelen refracted onto thresholds her reflection a holy cultof high-born women ululating in bedroomsgripping the mirror hard that bears her standard Helen‘With beauty like a tightened bow’The window clapping shut like an iron gate.She does the latch. Empty, diffuse glow.Now focus on her lithe and loathed silhouettesee if it makes plainhow a woman could be mistakenby so many men for a ghost bartered dead by nudest songeven in this unacknowledged lightat this impossible angle
by Sandeep Parmar