In Conversation with Nadia Misir: on Archives, Reclaiming Grammars, Poetry in Ordinary Moments, the Politics of Commutes, and Social Media — Sorjo Magazine
by Amanda Goonetilleke
I first saw Nadia perform at the first open mic I attended since moving to New York. I had never seen a brown woman on stage navigate the otherness and longing of diaspora. Since then, I’ve followed her generous Instagram posts where she muses on marigolds, finds line breaks in ocean waves, celebrates the found poetry in hookah menus, and finds spring in unexpected moments throughout the city.
If theory is a schematic, is poetry also a kind of theory? Too often I mistake the ordinary for sublime.
They call it first oil. The date and time of birth are recorded. December 20, 2019, 9:34pm. Sagittarius sun, Libra moon, Leo rising. The headline: “‘It meant so much to me’ …EBD youth says on being the first to test Guyana’s oil.”
The misguided optimism is not an exception despite the fact that first oil came without “necessary systems like a local content policy or a petroleum commission.” “Bittersweet,” the Guyana Times International calls it.
We record the dates of things like disasters. December 20, 2019 is no different.
I’m not athletic, but I developed a love for a new sport in Cold Spring: postcard hunting. I purchased four—the oldest postmarked in 1937 and the youngest in 1985—for a dollar each. My favorite lines: it is impossible to move a big, delicate plant in a car and Richard, it is lonely at this lake.
If what I write becomes an extension of what I grieve, how can I also make room for joy? Last spring, I made a daily inventory of three things: one thing that brought me joy, something I mourned and what the Q37 smelled like. Grief was still the dominant filter that colored my days, so I tried something that I thought would produce a more tangible result. I planted tulips.
Atlantic City is where a sunny summer storefront came to die: WOW, HOLY CREPE!! OMELETTE CREPES SAVORY CREPES SWEET CREPES DRINKS FRUITS. It is a storefront that is sure of itself and its use of excited punctuation. I want to use two exclamation points, too. A red FOR RENT sign greeted us at the window. Abandoned storefronts make me think of abandoned words and letters, which makes me think of a discrepancy between what is written and what is real, between what was and what could have been.
A poem I placed in Poetry's July/August 2019 Global Anglophone Indian Poems issue.
I have had to dislocate my faith, and how I imagined I was allowed to love and lust from patriarchal spaces like the mandirs I grew up attending on Sunday mornings—spaces where worshippers prayed with carnations and other flowers. I have grappled with these questions while watching television shows like Sex and the City—a show that I knew even as a high school student was problematic, was not about my New York, that did not reflect what I, or the women around me, looked like, or sounded like, but that still sparked moments of alternative imaginings of how and who I could love.
How does one define belief, belonging, and mourning in a life that has been built on fragments of land, sea, and memories scattered across the world – across cultures and religions – across a double diaspora? Nadia Misir’s engaging literary essay battles these questions in a quest to discover one’s own faith among an identity that is built on multitudes.
I think diaspora is a mosquito that bites at your skin until it swells red, until you can’t help but scratch it raw. If clarity is a mosquito bite, then let the chemicals each mosquito plants in my blood be mixed with the names of the ancestors I seek. Let my skin swell red with their names, their love stories, their joys. Let me summon the spirits of the mosquito ancestors that bit at the flesh of my ancestors.
My mother recognizes the bursts and shocks of green, the fruits and flowers, the greedy rain clouds that eat up the entire landscape of the country I saw when I was barely a year old.
Since the end of slavery and indenture in the country, Guyana’s history has become one of fraudulent elections and ethnic divide. But there is also a Guyana that is covered in rivers, creeks, and trenches, a Guyana that took up extra room in the kitchen when you were a child watching your grandmother clap hot roti over the sink, spinning stories about a place that was an empty memory for the first twenty-five years of your life.
Indian in looks, but not Indian enough, a Punjabi woman throws at me before shredding my eyebrows into shape.
Languages are borders.
For every anti-black comment an aunty makes about Serena Williams or my curly hair I curse the sugar trade, the British, boats, maps and Sir Walter Raleigh.
We are descended from enslaved Africans and indentured Indians yet we settled in two different boroughs along the border of race.
Tariq Shah: You know it's funny. Re-reading your poem, I find myself smack dab in the middle of a convergence– I just finished reading Bob Shacochis' Easy in the Islands, a collection of stories centered on the caribbean. I just finished teaching my undergrad students Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place as well. Both reckon with language from those regions of the world in different and interesting ways, and now that i've added reh-collec-shun or alphabet amnesia to the mix, I’m checking my room f...
Clarice Ramkissoon’s bedroom was a crime scene and her granddaughter Savita now stood in the middle of it, guilty as sin and six days sober. The body had been removed, the evidence hidden. An hour ago, the walls had been wiped down with vinegar and the floors scrubbed clean with rose water. All that remained of Clarice’s death was a missing vial of Roxanol. A tight knot of guilt grew roots inside of Savita’s stomach as she tried not to think about downing her grandfather’s last bottle of Johnnie Walker. He had taught her never to chase her whiskey with regret.