In her two poems, ‘Three Notes to Blue Jays’ and ‘So Much’, Zilka Joseph’s words take flight when describing the dazzling brilliance of a Blue Jay and Hummingbird in the open spaces of Michigan.
Three Notes to Blue Jays
Like stars in shining air,
you fill the darkest eye,
the falling azure
spears of your banking bodies
titling at sun and wind
in delta, in diamond.
Flashing your giant blue shield to the sky,
you blind watcher and predator,
chart the paths of invisible
tides of earth and ocean
that siphon you southward.
Gliding in fire-blue waves, you wrap the yellowing cottonwoods,
torch maples turquoise. Then angling high, you burn like opal arrows
piercing the flesh of cumulous dragons, leap like winged fish,
leave electric trails in sun glinting sharp off your metallic-blue-fin-sails.
Bailing adversity in wingfuls,
escaping ravenous raptors,
you lift your spiky jay song
from sleeping branches,
pack your blue, blue feathers
and bones, row your yearly way home
to warmth, to green, to yellow,
to sunflower, to grass,
to never-fading leaves.
swim hard for the gold
sun being sucked by the horizon,
rip through the final pale song of sky,
your feet rolled up to escape the dark.
In August we bought
an umbrella for my deck
printed with Indian paisley patterns in new-rice-green
and teal and aqua blue and dappled with circles oval petals
So pretty it could have been made from mum’s Calico sari
it flaps softly like her pallav lifting in the afternoon
breeze on our verandah (so sleepy we are drooping
in deck chairs) I can smell her talc her skin as I lean
into her on a sultry day Kolkata’s getting hotter
(they’ve cut down so many trees) how lovely
this short Michigan summer I drown
in its flowers dragonflies birdsong this arc
of fabric waving swaying above
whose shade falls upon me
like mercy like abundance
there is no escape from
what will sail on the
wind save this
the lady hummingbird
who claims my deck
(with its belled flowers fatted flies and invisible spiders) every summer
is hysterical at this new addition she whirls and she whips about
and spins clicks and chucks at my curly hair and examines the tall
billowy alien its shadow (aqua-emerald skirt blowing above us)
zips at its rim rages at it several times fusses at the hibiscus
with apricot-colored blossoms and the tousled lavender zooms
past my face wings a-blur (I feel the slap of air) to the top
of the sliding door comes to a dead stop at the syrup-filled
red glass feeder and dips her needle-beak and sucks
sucks with her hollow tongue (I can almost
hear her) her throat expands
contracts she sucks dry this red
glass bulb of sugary
sustenance she will flee
the darkness soon fly but
(wait wait) just one more
one more hit of her liquid
sugar high ill-
usion on which
About Zilka Joseph
Zilka Joseph is an acclaimed poet and teacher. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Poetry Daily, Michigan Quarterly Review, Frontier Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, Mantis, Review Americana, Quiddity, and in anthologies such as Cheers to Muses: Contemporary Works by Asian American Women, and Uncommon Core: Contemporary Poems for Learning and Living (The Neutral Zone), Lands I Live In (Mayapple Press) and What Dread (Finishing Line Press). Zilka’s chapbooks were nominated for a PEN America award and a Pushcart, the latter of which she has been nominated twice. Her book of poems Sharp Blue Search of Flame was published by Wayne State University Press and was a finalist for the Forward Indie Book Award. She was awarded a Zell Fellowship, the Michael S. Guterman prize and the Elsie Choy Lee Scholarship (CEW) from the University of Michigan. Zilka has an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan, an MA in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University, and a BA and BEd from Calcutta University. She teaches creative writing workshops in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is a freelance editor and manuscript coach. You can see more of Zilka’s work on her website here: www.zilkajoseph.com or via her Facebook page: Creative Writing/Writing Coach.
About our artist Sara Rivers
Sara Rivers is an artist who works in different media. She completed her foundation diploma at Brighton School of Art and her BA in Fine Art at Canterbury School of Art. She has also studied Art Therapy at St Albans School of Art, Hertfordshire. Sara founded the Creativity Centre, a space for outsider artists and those recovering from mental ill health, at Isledon Road (formerly Corsica Street), London. She is a founder member of the Otherside Gallery, and has created three short films, all of which were funded by the NHS. Sara is passionate about improving the services available to people experiencing mental ill health, and has led many campaigns against the continued cuts to day services in the borough of Islington. Sara is the current artist for Lucy Writers, and has designed all the artwork for the website to date. To view more of Sara’s work follow her new Instagram account @pixbysararivers and see her profile on Outside In.
‘Three Notes to Blue Jays’ and other poems were written for the series Flora & Fauna of Foreign Places, which was conceived and edited by Usha Akella for Lucy Writers.
Flora and fauna define our cultural sensibility; what trees and flowers we grew up with signifies ‘home.’ Transplant an individual to a foreign environment with strange trees and flowers, he or she is likely to feel ‘foreign’. Flowers are culturally specific in symbolism expressed in social events like weddings and funerals.
As a recent graduate of a Creative Writing MSt living in America, Usha noticed that in addition to the gift of knowledge and friendships, her journeys to the UK sparked an interest in flora. For the first time, she noticed a passion to want to know the names of flowers and trees. Somewhere along the way between the limes of Trinity College and the walnut maple of Madingley Hall; between the splendid gardens of Rydal Mount and rolling vales of Cumbria, she had been infected with a green-eye. When she walks in her Austin neighbourhood, she is now incited to know the names of the wildflowers and trees that she took for granted visually. And she notices, how this new world seeps into her writing gradually.
Right now, the early bloom of summer is upon most countries. So, it seems perfect to celebrate flowers, plants and trees as a theme for the poetry issue. In the next few weeks, Usha will be publishing poems by writers from around the world that explore, reflect on and appreciate the flora and fauna of foreign places, and what they mean to them.