cover image The Cowherd’s Son

The Cowherd’s Son

Rajiv Mohabir. Tupelo, $16.96 trade paper (14p) ISBN 978-1-936797-96-7

In this Kundiman Prize–winning follow-up to 2016’s The Taxidermist’s Cut, Mohabir continues to demonstrate an uncanny ability to compose exacting, tactile poems that musically leap off the page. These poems modulate between tales of Hindu deities, recollections of history and folklore: these are complicated family dynamics, queer intimacy (“My love tasted of sea/ and relics”), acts of resistance, and accounts of shifting geographies and displacement. Mohabir’s candid work is steeped in the realities of being a mixed-caste, queer Indian-American; his speaker sings these lived experiences into verse—moving between pleasure, sensuality, hunger, alienation, and injury: “It shocks me to dream my body/ as a cut pomegranate.” Mohabir even uses the quarter rest symbol from sheet music in the breaks between sections to make explicit the collection’s musical nature and the poetic silences the work necessitates. Each of the book’s seven sections approaches identity from a different angle, including that of the ancestral grief passed down through the Indian indenture system and chronicles of conquest and empire channeled through the mythical El Dorado. Mohabir offers much to appreciate, and even among the strife he records, there is a yearning for and pursuit of joy: “In this building of shattered whispers// I say your words at night to taste you.” (May)