Beyond and Back to the Yellow Mustard Flowers
I was born on the birthday of the first poet of the Nepali language as we know it. When I learned that fact, I understood that I was born to write. In Nepal, Bhanu Jayanti is celebrated as a day of poetry. Grown-ups and school children gather to recite and listen to poetry. Every year that I lived there, I did the same. My teachers told me I was a good student but that I was best at poetry. Earnestly, I felt that, too. Indeed, I grew up with poetry in my blood.
In those idyllic days when Kathmandu sky was a periwinkle blue within the snowcapped walls of mountains, poetry was not a craft—it was something as natural as homework, lunch, the monsoon. I would sit, legs crossed, a notebook and a pen at hand, on a wooden bench in a corner of my room and write about the world as I knew it. The process was about contemplating the various epiphanies of my day and wondering if others felt the intense surge of revelations about existence and the universe the way I did.
I remember as an adolescent girl walking across the green field to the right of my house and noticing the yellow dots of the mustard flowers. At that moment, the world shrunk into the smallness of the yellow flowers and into my feet that wouldn’t move on. The sky lit up, and the sun’s rays hit brighter than ever so I could see the flower the way it came into life. A poem had happened. The challenge was to crystallize this understanding into words once I returned to my wooden chair with my notebook, my pen, and my solitude.
Flash forward fifteen years later, and the challenge remains. I am feverishly typing on my laptop, knees bent, meditating in a quiet corner. Poetry is now more than validating my existence and seeking meaning in an often chaotic world. It is about both diving deep within and reaching out to grasp my truth—to add to the shared understanding of being.
As in my formative years, the raw light of the sun shines almost always unexpectedly and quietly on poems in the making–once, a girl twirling her skirt and a boy in skinny jeans watching her in the school parking lot as I waited in the traffic light, a deaf man mouthing “god loves you” in the Chinese grocery store only after my daughter gave him a few crisp dollar bills, a news story about a six-year-old flung into the cold river at midnight by her own father, reading about the Iraqi man who was admiring the first snow of his life in Dallas when he was shot, the seemingly ordinary things which happen in Texas but take me back to Kathmandu. These moments are more distinct than others, and I experience them like a line of a poem. The inspiration, the inception forms like bubbles that stay long enough to hold a small picture that needs words. The challenge is to transfer the memory of the microcosm into words. In those flashes in which I’ve felt the range of human emotions and acknowledged the experiences, I know I must find the right words to relive them.
Mostly, words come to me. When they do not come, I call them. I read many voices—sage, timeless, contemporary, foreign, familiar. I listen to the universe, to me. Then, I get to work like any other task. I sit down to write because I must. Rarely, but sometimes, I face blankness. If the blankness grows, I return to my old work that returned to me from different editors and journals and tighten them here and there. If that fails, I translate my own work into Nepali and exercise thinking with two different heads at once. If typing fails, I write. Something almost always works.
Some days are kind. Words also wait for me. I’ve found them waiting for me like a reservoir when I take on challenges like “a poem a day” for national poetry month, ekphrastic art challenge, weekly news response contest. I’ve found them in the bliss that is motherhood and in the heartbreak that is being in a world that forgets kindness. I’ve found them as an immigrant living seven seas away from the soil in which I breathed first. This is the naturally occurring process that comes easily. The harder process is fine-tuning the raw pieces.
I give my written pieces breathing room. I let the words sit for a few days. For the most part, I know when I have succeeded in a poem. In the poems that turn into words exactly as I meant them to, the clarity of the intent is evident. However, if I force creativity, it shows. I cannot show the soul of the truth that I want the reader to see. The poem becomes a jungle in which my mustard flowers are shrouded by vines, and the sun does not reach their yellow beauty. These go to my friends in my writer’s group and a close poet friend. I can test a poem’s “landing” and find out exactly what did not work. Most of the time, editing the returned poems works. Sometimes, I have to accept that some of the poems are meant to just be with me. I remind myself that “being” a poet is hard work. Unlike other jobs, being a writer does not stop with the nighttime traffic slowing down. I must continue. So, I deal with my heart with grace.
Our columnist, Anuja Ghimire, is a native of Kathmandu, Nepal. Her poetry is published in over 30 journals in the U.S., Canada, and Nepal. A Pushcart-Nominee in 2015, she works in the e-learning industry by the day and writes poetry whenever she can. She lives in Dallas, TX with her husband and two little girls. Some of her published writing can be found in http://saffronandsymmetry.tumblr.com.
Read her poem, “When I Kidnapped You,” also released today at MAW.