Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi

girls
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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My first impression, reading Tishani Doshi’s poems, is what a charming, arch, witty, mischievous writer she is. The imagery can be so violent, so alarming, so depressing, but something about the expression makes you want to snicker.  Take the poem, “Everyone Loves a Dead Girl.” The very title makes you pause.  “Even those people who do nothing,” she writes,
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but make love in the grass all day long. Benevolent people.
Their hearts leap when they hear a story of a dead girl,
and when they tell it to someone (how could they not?)
the telling is a kind of nourishing – all the dormant bits
inside them charge around like Bolshoi dancers re-entering
the world alive, and with wonder.
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Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but giggle a little at the Bolshoi dancers.
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A survey of some of the titles in Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods bolsters my claim. Forget the title poem, there’s also “Ode to Patrick Swayze,” “To My First White Hairs,” “Your Body Language Is Not Indian! or Where I Am Snubbed at a Cocktail Party by a Bharatnatyam Dancer,” “Meeting Elizabeth Bishop in Madras,” and “The View from Inside My Coffin,” to cite only a handful. Doshi is so urbane, so clever, so droll.
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And so educated. The poems sing with references to artists, writers, science and culture. “Jungian Postcard,” for example, is written as if writing a tourist card to the great founder of analytic psychology; she takes on the star-struck tone of someone on vacation.
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Dear Carl, the days here are impossible:
all silence, and the sea. Yesterday we saw
the horizon unstitch itself from the sky
so delicately, and further down the beach,
two stray dogs materialized like lost souls
from a genie’s lamp. I just had to cry.
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Several poems are prefaced with epigraphs from poets like Dean Young, Wole Soyinka  and Wislaw Szymborska. There are Golden Shovels, a form invented by Terrence Hayes, including one called “The Leather of Love,” which is after John Berger, the English poet and art critic.
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“Love in the Time of Autolysis” plays on one of Doshi’s favorite themes, the decay of the  body.  The poem begins so charmingly as a promise to a lover, reminiscent of the Metaphysical poet, Andrew Marvell:
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When you die, Love, I will leave you out
like a Zoroastrian, listen to the hiss
of oxygen withdraw, watch your blood
pool and glister…
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…as your body morphs from man to farm. / It will almost kill me to see the swarms / of blowflies….”  Gross … but funny!
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A native Indian, Doshi lives in Tamil Nadu, India, and her poetry is lush with the atmosphere of the subcontinent. “Summer in Madras,” “Monsoon Poem” (“Let me tell you how little / is written of mud, how it sneaks up / like a sleek-gilled vandal to catch hold / of your ankles.”), “Calcutta Canzone,” “Coastal Life” (“All night the electricity surges and stops, / smothering wires  and fuses, while lizards / plop.”): the poems are artful travelogues in themselves while plundering Doshi’s deeper themes of lust and decay.
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And speaking of travelogues, a number of Doshi’s poems are set in various exotic locations around the world. “The Women of the Shin Yang Park Sauna, Gwangju,” for instance is an amusing poem about sitting in a public bath with strangers who speak a different language. “Hello, I’m naked, the bubble above my head /says, translated into Korean for their benefit.” “Encounters with a Swedish Burglar” is a fantasy of a break-in during “the unbearable brightness of 3 a.m.” (“I think I scared you more – an apparition / in a white nightgown, bolted upright in bed / like that kid from The Exorcist.”). “Understanding My Fate in a Mexican Museum” begins “I met my past and future selves in a museum in Mexico.” She addresses these selves: “In time, // dear past and future selves – in time
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we will resolve our joint concerns. Just leave me
for a moment with these Aztec gods to listen
at the crossroads. I may never hold creation in my skin
but I will always dream it.
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Dreams are a recurring leitmotif, and a number of poems allude to the vulnerability of women in the world. The poem “Disco Biscuits” highlights both of these elements. The poem begins:
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We were talking about the subject of Quaaludes,
of which I know nothing except back in the 70’s,
when I was being born, Bill Cosby slipped them
to a bunch of women.
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She goes on, “most of us have known a man / who arrived like Bill – sleek and proud as a July thunderstorm.”  The memory always comes back, like a dream. “And how it works is a kind of time-warp / that bitch-slaps you when you’re at your innocent best…and suddenly, kablam, I’m seventeen, and everyone has / something to hide…” The poem concludes:
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All our old selves are parading the beach, whispering how
there should be a museum for this kind of installation.
They’re crushing bits of nostalgia in their heels. They grow
photophobic and bendy. They splinter. They shirr.
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Doshi’s skill with rhyme, internal and end-rhymes, is apparent from the foregoing excerpts, graceful as dance (she danced with the Chandralekha troupe for fifteen years). From “The Day Night Died”:
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Stars exposed themselves like pervs.
Forests under duress released
nyctohylophobia from their nerves.
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Tishani Doshi’s poetry is a delight to read. Do yourself a favor.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) –
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