by Rajiv Mohabir
“For seasons I was faceless // trying to swallow constellations, / to roll a star-map on my tongue,” recounts Rajiv Mohabir’s speaker in “Boy with Baleen for Teeth.” As formally visionary and acoustically attuned as ever, Mohabir has composed an interspecies opera in Whale Aria. This collection examines the humpback whale as a zoomorphic analog of the queer, brown, migratory speaker breaching these pages; just as a person navigates postcolonial queerness across geopolitical boundaries, traveling from India to Guyana to London to New York to Honolulu, these singular cetaceans wander through disparate waters. Undersea, whales call to one another through their marine music, and, using the documented structure of humpback vocalizations, Mohabir translates the syntax of their songs into poetry. In our search for meaning, in our call and response, kinship resonates; “the echo is amniotic.” “Once you immerse yourself in unending strains / the tones will haunt you: // ghosts spouting sohars you’ve called / since childhood.” Fluid and inexorable as the ocean, Whale Aria articulates the confluence of ecological fate and human history. In “Why Whales Are Back in New York City,” Mohabir notes the coincidence of current events: humpback migration returns to Queens for the first time in a century while the state expedites deportations of undocumented people in the same burrough. The language shared by human and marine creatures in these poems, however, promise that the tides will turn. “Our songs will pierce the dark / fathoms,” Mohabir underscores the eternity of water. “Behold the miracle: // what was once lost / now leaps before you.”
Paperback | 121 pages | Four Way Books | 2023
Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Taxidermist’s Cut, The Cowherd’s Son, and Cutlish, which was awarded the Eric Hoffer Medal Provocateur, placed second in the 2022 Guyana Prize for Literature, was longlisted for the 2022 PEN/Voelcker Prize, and was a finalist for both the New England Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His memoir, Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir won the Forward Indies Award for LGBTQ+ Nonfiction and was a finalist for the 2022 PEN/America Open Book Award, 2021 Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction, and 2021 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Memoir/Biography. As a translator, his version of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara, won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2020. In 2022, he was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Colorado Boulder.
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