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Sumita Chakraborty

Sumita Chakraborty is a poet, essayist, and scholar. She is the author of Arrow (Alice James Books, 2020) and the in-progress academic monograph Grave Dangers, a study of poetics, ethics, and death in the Anthropocene. The recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation and Kundiman, Chakraborty was shortlisted for a Forward Prize for Best Single Poem by the Forward Arts Foundation. She is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Poetry at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she teaches in literary studies and in creative writing. In May 2021, Chakraborty will be the Poem-a-Day guest editor

By This Poet

7

Night Questions

           When does the moon turn full?

When I tell it stories of love.

           When does the moon begin to wane?

When I stop speaking of love.

           What do you look like in the dark?

A horned, lit, and petrified tree on a shore.

           To whom do you turn when in pain?

Essay on Thunder

A woman made wary by misfortune, writes Stendhal, will not experience this soul-shaking upheaval. Soul-shaking upheaval means something like what he elsewhere calls the curse of passionate love, although my sense is that love here is better understood as either arousal or torpor, and that distinctions in such matters are, while necessary and true, ultimately mythological. Stendhal’s own argument also entails a critique of terminology: of thunderbolts, he says, That ridiculous word ought to be changed—but nevertheless the thing “love at first sight” does exist

When I first copied down those sentences from Stendhal, I wrote instead of upheaval the nonword unheaval, which I now think of as upheaval’s uncompromised sibling. On the ceiling of my gynecologist’s exam room is a watercolor of a lurid hummingbird with a few centimeters of beak inside a flower. A hummingbird’s beak is understood to be a sheath for the bird’s tongue, which means the tongue is a knife. Hummingbirds use their beaks to feed, as well as to do battle. There has not yet been a study of what their tongues do in such times of war. 
 

Basic Questions

      What was the experience of death like for you? 

The fluids within my body failed to be held within my body, which, as far as I can tell, does not entirely differ from some experiences of life, 

      At what moment did you know there was an existence beyond earth? 

as when, for example, I lay beneath another’s beautiful body of my own free will for the first time and learned in one of those staggering moments that I had hairs within my nostrils, 

      How did you feel? 

because they stood on end, as if confused by which hole was meant to receive the body that was on top of me, 

      Were you met by anyone? 

rapt into confusion. I once got to see inside of my own lower abdomen. Did you know there is a galaxy there? I have photographs to prove it.

      What things in our world still attract you most? 

My veins make azalea roots that teem with messages. There are lights whose names I don’t know. Malignancies are moons. There’s gold on the ocean shores. Planets made of other planets, growing into one another to rewrite the old rules about space and about time. I saw it all, through the eye within the eye. Someday, I’ll show you.

      What would you like to clarify for our world about your life? 

Daily existence, mine included, was nothing short of improbable. 

      Do you wish to return again? 

Foucault once wrote, “The venomous heart of things and men is, at bottom, what I’ve always tried to expose.” 

      Is there a message you would like to give to our world? 

Rilke once wrote, “You must change your life.” 

      Is there anything that you wouldn’t mind saying that would help assure your friends that you are you? 

Whatever I have loved, I have taken its name in vain.