Verge Notes

— Bhanu Kapil

“I think that an exile is fully integrated only when she falls in love with a person who was born in the place where she has fled to save herself.”
— Cristina Peri Rossi, State of Exile (tr. Marilyn Buck)

A verge is the place between the garden and forest beyond. The alleyway, Pacific grot, a glowing-pink or lime-green thumb waggling a ride to Boise + Agra. The novel is a blob of indigo blue at this point. Pop it and the floor is covered with confetti. Here are seven sentences* or paragraphs** that have not found their place in prose. Do some sentences perform trajectories that take them further and further from what a book might have been? Is this wildness? I did not write these notes in England, yet here we are, in England. It took years for these words to arrive.

1. I once awoke to discover that in the night a king cobra had shed its entire skin beneath my bed.

2. No, not poems, instead: the energy that comes through them like yellow lightning through the back of a broken mirror propped up in the roots of a tree at the place where the forest meets the flank of the meadow’s grass.

3. What do you never want to experience in this space?

4. Eat the raw heart of a horse. This will distinguish you from a cast of millions.

5. I feel like an incompetent werewolf who was born in Hillingdon Hospital on a soft June morning so long ago that the weather resembled a pent-up, shuddering sigh.

6. “is…”  [already dead]. From Agamben’s ‘The Ban and the Wolf’: the idea that a person who transgressed the civic boundary of a city might lawfully be killed. What is a citizen? I thought about the boundary townships of London—industrial grids with burnt out terraced housing in the preliminary riots, the race and identity actions of the 1970s and early ’80s. In the place I was born. A “sovereign exception.” And what it might mean, to be born in a non-centralized or outlying place. In the time of riots. A citizen or near-citizen. To non-citizens. A sheen of metallic fur. How Ban’s dress begins to dessicate and curl; the leg, then hem, beneath the street-lamps on the Hayes/Southall border. Again.

7. Did I say too much in the seminar? The ground was covered with ice and flames. I carried the leopard rug, a rug woven by my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother in 1945 (?) to class. I carried a rug, that is, which was carried from Lahore to Meerut (?) in 1947, and from there to Colorado in 2014. The rug shows a leopard with an open red-blood-tongue-teeth-mouth, wearing a diamond necklace. I read something the other day, something Ben Lerner, the poet, said to describe poetry, something about polishing diamonds, or getting the raw diamonds. I couldn’t process it. In my mind, all I could see was the colonizer’s clasp or choker around the neck of the leopard. My grandmother wove this rug under British rule and smuggled it—herself and her two children—across the border—in a cart. I didn’t tell my students what my mother saw through a hole. Of that cart. Those women tied to trees. Instead, I took the leopard to the university, wanting to make a link to the events of that week. I forgot to show them that in front of the leopard, vertically, faintly, are two words in red-pink hemp or jute. GOOD NIGHT. The leopard is saying GOOD NIGHT to the colonizers, to British rule. This was my grandmother’s secret. If anyone was visiting her home, or came into her home, they would see this alternative animal. The words are faint. The leopard in its diamond necklace or choker has blood dripping from its neck-teeth-mouth-tongue. Oh, I understand. The leopard has come from devouring something, and what has it devoured? Its owner. The person who set the trap.

* At times I was trying to remember something that didn’t come easily: a rattlesnake glimpsed in The Lightning Fields delivers a terrible poison, but at least it has an antidote. The same cannot be said for the snake I describe above.

** In the United States, I taught poetry in a small department of creative writing called the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. That’s over now. See: notes #2 and #4, but also #3 and #7.

Read more from Issue No. 23 or share on Facebook and Twitter.