By Vamika Sinha
For the past year I’ve been mentoring a student at NYU Abu Dhabi, Vamika Sinha, on her hybrid project Cranes, which is a mix of poetry and essays, and has to do with identity and moving through the world as a young woman of colour—a 21st flâneuse who’s discovering the failures of cosmopolitanism, the burden of hyphens, and how art is a kind of hunger that fills and sustains us. I’m new to teaching, but I doubt this thrill ever diminishes—when you come upon a voice that feels grounded and wise, that’s looking backwards and forwards at the same time, when goddamit, they’re just beginning. Vamika’s voice has a choral effect because she’s in dialogue with so many artists—Coltrane, Teju Cole, Solange, Gloria Anzaldúa, Yasser Alwan, always coming back to the question, “What am I?” A flautist and photographer, she understands the power of the image, but also knows how to riff and jump octaves. She’s less interested in crescendo, more excited by synchronization and that lovely moment that she describes in jazz as “the opposite of foreshadowing…the proclamation of what came before, the hint of an older tune.” She’s building on all that’s come before by pushing up against it or subverting it or singing it some other way, and by doing so, she’s evoking Audre Lorde. She’s smashing down that house and building her own house, and the result is glorious. I can’t wait for the world to discover her.
-Tishani Doshi, author of Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods (Copper Canyon) and Small Days and Nights (Bloomsbury)
blackbrown crush: a sonnet
In praise of all the blessings we wouldn’t get, call upon my breaths,
phone-line gossamer. Make them fervent, & pull
the string in my windpipe, till the monarchs come down
from their clouds into my stomach. In the name of crippled wings,
Messenger, the hours of time split
like filaments on our screens, injera like naan, Hawkins’
‘Body and Soul’, history bleached & sonnets
undone like a corset. For this thread-thing I wait
which is to say, I want you
to wait for me, how long I migrate.
You call & what sun, what slaughter
of delicate, queens toppling & I hope you catch me
with a net as big as the atlantic, sieving
words struggling under the coats of our wings.
in the open city, i move like an eel. i am electric and curved like a smile razored. in the open city, i live on hot food and hot music. i distract myself from weight. in the open city, a man makes a rape inside the womb of a book, and fills it with hot air. the words never deflate. and i believe in wonderlands lying at the bottom of holes, and i believe in blackbrown alices who reach their destination. in the open city, translation is not sold in the shops like rope necklaces. in the open city, i fly without wires making me marionette. look there, some me has fallen and killed their darling self. in the open city, i am flâneuse venus never in retrograde, cinnamon brown flesh and moonless. an open city is the woman itself. free to lay. in the open city, i am a queen on the chessboard, mobile as a dream or dictator. in the open city, memory is no cannibal but a child making jigsaw. in the open city, i can change colors. make blues into hot pink, my brains all alchemist.
self-portrait as nation-state
after safia elhillo
for a language i choose the pen
filled up in red
runny like syrup in spoons
sticky on my lips.
for borders i choose the seam
running across my mother’s
stomach, proof of birth, that
i am i am an aftermath;
that i did not slip into a life that should
not have been, like that
brother of mine who never crowned
any territory, only bled.
for a culture i breathe breath
into plastic dolls
like myself, i give
them songs & color & ink
as thick as what flows within them.
for an anthem, i laugh —
jagged, jazzy, juicing
a child’s voice ripening towards
its own self – colored soul
stained. & for my people i give
them throats full, to speak
i belong you belong i belong to you & to me.