Leaving Yuba City: Poems
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Anchor Books, $13.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-385-48854-9
An abusive father (""the gorilla with iron fingers"") and the suicide of a mother who puts the poet to bed and locks her in ""so I would not be the first to discover her body hanging from the ceiling"" open this third collection from the poet and acclaimed novelist (Mistress of Spices, 1997) as the poet, who was born in India and now lives in northern California, re-examines her origins. A section imagining the lives of the Punjab farmers who arrived in Yuba City, Calif., in 1910, takes on their voices in lush, novelistic prose poems: ""I lay in bed and tried to picture her, my bride, in a shiny gold salwar-kamzee, eyes that were black and bright and deep enough to dive in."" Divakaruni takes equal inspiration from other artists' interpretations of her native land, drawing on photography, film and most notably the paintings of American artist Francesco Clemente. In a section devoted to his ""Indian Miniatures"" series, Divakaruni's words enter into Clemente's dreamscapes and blossom into moments of startling visual clarity, as in ""Cutting the Sun"": ""The rays fall around me/ curling a bit, like dried carrot peel. A far sound/ in the air--fire or rain? And when I've cut/ all the way to the center of the sun/ I see flowers, flowers, flowers."" Divakaruni's persistent concern with women's experience often deepens as it is arrayed against varying cultural grounds. (Aug.) FYI: Sections of the manuscript won Pushcart and Allen Ginsberg prizes.
Reviewed on: 07/14/1997