Archive for the ‘t’ Category

A cup of fine tea: Anuradha Vijayakrishnan’s “Suicide Note” (2)

January 1, 2013

Anuradha Vijayakrishnan’s “Suicide Note” [Read the poem here]
(First published in Issue #10 of Cha, this poem was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010.) 

-This post is written by Tammy Ho.

Also read Tammy and Jarno’s previous Fine Tea on the same poem here.

The frog in Anuradha Vijayakrishnan’s “Suicide Note” occupies a staccato moment in time. He is the summation of all sadness, a hinge upon which absence and presence rotate, and beside whom Vijayakrishnan collects a panoply of grief:

To the frog at my doorstep that sang all night
To the cicadas that held unbroken vigil and would not sleep at dawn
To the rain clouds that held back till they burst
(L1-L3)

Is it possible that, even in clouds, the awe that accompanies such brooding sentience turns suddenly to unease and disillusionment?

Suicide is not the preserve of the cleverest animal, after all. Some breeds of Asian bear, holes drilled to their bladders, are known to mete self-destruction on themselves and their children. Rumours of rats, horses and dolphins in similar predicaments, drift down through medical journals and the lurid press, and scores of dogs, made cynical by their status and comfortable living, have leapt to their deaths from the Overtoun Bridge in Dumbarton. Bright beasts, of course, and humanised by disillusionment, but a similar impulse for voluntary self-destruction has been noted in strains of salmonella, which, witnessing the advance of a superior bacteria, cling to a cell wall and await inhalation by their host, happy in the knowledge that the force and potency of this ire will also obliterate its rival. Pea aphids explode beside a threatening bug, skin macheteing the air, termites cover their enemies with the sticky pith of their mortal bodies and small squadrons of the forelius pusillus ant stroll out to certain war happily as long as, in so doing, they seal their families safely in the nest behind them.

Vijayakrishnan seems at once to know, to harness, and to lose her position as head of the agency of shared grief on this earth, and lose it she must, to make her parting address:

To glow worms that gave me fire for as long
as it was needed
To the drenched clumps of grass that smell of moth wings
and butterfly love
To the golden deer that lingered just beyond
my window
(L5-L10)

If not quite a happy loss, it is a satisfied and comfortable one. Suicide, decriminalised in England and Wales in 1961, has left a semantic bloodstain on the collective lexicon. The BBC, the Guardian and Observer and the Samaritans, have abandoned use the word ‘commit’ in their references to it (language theorists have suggest we ‘create’, ’induce’ or ‘chose’, for fewer criminal connotations).

Vijayakrishnan’s reader can witness a growing escape in this death, pain now a memory, auto-termination leading calmly to equilibrium and a renewable peace:

To the leftover noisiness of this marvellous day
To the shining lights of the neighbours and their last
ashen cigarettes
To broken glass trails that will show the way to strangers
(L12-L15)

The poem ends where we began: the frog, now exhausted, and a human life in the balance. It is as if Socrates has sipped of his hemlock, feels it slowly drowning his feet and knows it will head for his heart, but slowly enough to deliver his final dialogue on the immortality of the soul:

To the quiet beating of my amazing heart
To my shaking hands
To blue ink and black and bruises that may or may not heal
(L16-L18)

Anuradha Vijayakrishnan was born in Cochin, India. She completed her Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from Calicut University, Kerala and her postgraduate studies in Management from XLRI, Jamshedpur. A trained Carnatic singer, she lives in India/UAE and pursues a full time corporate career while writing both fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared inMagma, Asia Literary Review, Mascara, Indian Literature and Nth Position. Her poem The epiphyte speaks from Magma 44 is due to feature in Magma‘s anthology that commemorates its fifteenth anniversary. In 2007, Vijayakrishnan’s novel Seeing the Girl was long listed for the Man Asian Literary prize.

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A cup of fine tea: Anuradha Vijayakrishnan’s “Suicide Note”

May 2, 2010

Anuradha Vijayakrishnan’s “Suicide Note” [Read the poem here]
(First published in Issue #10 of Cha, this poem was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010.)

-This post is co-written by Tammy Ho and Jarno Jakonen.

Also read Tammy’s creative response to the poem here.

Vijayakrishnan’s “Suicide Note” is an incomplete note. It is made up of a list of addressees: frog, cicadas, rain clouds, gardens, worms, grass, deer, curtains, noise, lights, glass trails, heart, hands, ink, bruises, rivers, summers, monsoons and thunderbolts. We never get to the body of the letter and therefore do not know what the persona wants to say to her addressees. And yet, much is revealed through reading the list.

The poem begins with descriptions of the sounds of nature: ‘To the frog at my doorstep that sang all night / To the cicadas that held unbroken vigil and would not sleep at dawn’ (L1-L2). It is as if at the moment of death, the persona’s sense of hearing is heightened and she becomes aware of the tapestry of sounds around her. The nature is not only perceived, but is also interconnected with the persona: the frog sings for her at her doorstep, the cicadas hold her vigil, the rain clouds wait for her before bursting (L3), the flowers bloom early for her (L4), and the glow worms give her light and warmth (L5-L6). This is her death, wake and funeral procession all in one; the natural elements and animals are the persona’s mourners. This ‘funeral’ reminds one of Emily Dickinson’s:

I FELT a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.

The second stanza of Vijayakrishnan’s poem continues with the revelation of the persona’s resting place: ‘drenched clumps of grass that smell of moth wings / and butterfly love’ (L7-L8). Has it been raining? Or does the wetness come from the persona’s own blood? ‘Moth wings’ suggests doomed lives; attracted to light, moths seek death. ‘Butterfly love’ reminds us of the Chinese legend of the star-crossed ‘butterfly lovers’ Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, whose spirits turn into butterflies after death. The hints as to the circumstances of the persona’s death get fleshed out further when she recalls the ‘golden deer that lingered just beyond / my window’ (L9-L10) and ‘the white curtains that danced for my pleasure’ (L11). The window is mentioned once more in the third stanza: ‘broken glass trails that will show the way to strangers’ (L15). Considering the title of the poem, the persona’s suicide is probably in some way related to this broken window. Perhaps she has jumped through it. But the precise way she has engineered her death is never explicitly mentioned, nor does it matter anyway, as she seems to feel no remorse or guilt. She says her goodbyes, referring to the fatal day as ‘this marvellous day’ (L12) that just passed. We know that ‘the golden deer’ is fromthe Ramayana. Rama goes to hunt the golden deer, leaving Sita alone, and Rawana kidnaps her. But what is the significance of the lingering golden deer in relation to the dying persona?

The persona also recalls her own bodily functions when she dedicates remembrances ‘to the quiet beating of my amazing heart / To my shaking hands’ (L16-L17). Just as she is highly aware of the animals, the persona is conscious of her own body as well. Her faintly beating heart and the shaking hands suggest that the body is about to come to an end. And there is also perhaps a sense of remove as if she is watching herself move towards death after having thrown herself from the window, just like the neighbours’ ‘last / ashen cigarettes’ (L13-L14). Here we must note that spent and snubbed cigarettes are almost always discarded with carelessness — our persona’s throwing her body is to some extent similar to such treatment. We are given more insight as to the persona’s life in the next lines, when she addresses ‘blue ink and black and bruises that may or may not heal’ (L18). Perhaps she was an author or a poet, which would explain the blue ink, but the bruises are somewhat inexplicable and add a twist in the story. Was she a victim of violence? And could that be a cause of her suicide? Or was she bruised from the fall after jumping through the window? And if she is really dying, how can it be questioned whether the bruises may heal?

After bidding farewell to her body, the narrator drifts away and remembers ‘rivers that will swell and continents that will shift’ (L19) as well as ‘summers and monsoons and climactic / thunderbolts that will strike at will’ (L20-L21). Thus the poem that began with the immediate surroundings zooms out to contain the larger pattern of life: rivers, continents, summers, monsoons, thunderbolts. These geographical and climatic features perhaps suggest the persona’s final struggle before death: swelling, shifting, moving wind and striking bolts – these are the opposite of calmness. We are reminded of Dylan Thomas’s plea to his father: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night‘. And the mention of ‘continents’ also reminds us of these lines from Wordsworth’s poem “Lucy“: ‘Roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course / With rocks, and stones, and trees’. When finally death draws near, our persona’s goodbyes come to an end. The ending of the poem echoes its beginning, as the last attribution goes: ‘To cicadas that live for a day and to the frog at my doorstep / that sleeps now exhausted’ (L22-L23). The wake is over, the frog stops singing and the cicadas who held vigil are now silent.

Anuradha Vijayakrishnan was born in Cochin, India. She completed her Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from Calicut University, Kerala and her postgraduate studies in Management from XLRI, Jamshedpur. A trained Carnatic singer, she lives in India/UAE and pursues a full time corporate career while writing both fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared inMagma, Asia Literary Review, Mascara, Indian Literature and Nth Position. Her poem The epiphyte speaks from Magma 44 is due to feature in Magma‘s anthology that commemorates its fifteenth anniversary. In 2007, Vijayakrishnan’s novel Seeing the Girl was long listed for the Man Asian Literary prize.