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Cherry Blossom Tree in Sara Garg's front yard.

A Glance at the Raining Flowers, Away From My AP Lecture

Rain is a metaphor in many books and movies. It signifies a baptism, a cleansing, a change. It is said to smell like a thousand different things: roses, grass, smoke, spring. Rain is laughter, rain is peace, rain is tears. Adele sang a song about rain, so did Pitbull and Phil Collins and so many others whose names I can’t remember. In their voices, I’ve listened to the longing of the rain, the screams of the rain, the warm smiles of the rain, and the tippy-tappy feet of the rain. But today, rain is simply beautiful.

The water falls like diamonds from the sky, catching the light and making the front yard of the house glow. The wet grass looks like the plains in the movies where the main characters can lay down as if it’s a bed. This window in my study peers into a world of wonder. 

I want to run outside and be part of the wet, wondrous world, I want to dance in the rain, but I have responsibilities. I look back at my computer, and I get back to AP World History. Rain will come again. 

My little sister gasps, “look outside, Sara,” she tells me, “it’s so pretty.” I look back at the images on my screen: burial mounds as Auschwitz, accounts of the “Rape of Nanjing,” and soldiers lining up for a firing squad. It’s hard to imagine anything pretty after this atrocity. How did the world move on? When the victors wrote the story, was there no mention of the horrors they committed, was there a mass campaign to forget? I sound like a conspiracy theorist and shake my head to clear it, smiling at my sister. I will see the beauty that she does because without that rosy sheen the world becomes a dark place. 

I smile at Savi, nine years old and caught up in the rain. And I humor her, walking over next to her desk. She’s covered it in stickers of hearts and rainbows and a pink nameplate that says “THIS GIRL CAN.” While nine-year-olds are enamored with every little thing about the world, at sixteen, I’m focused on making it to a good college.

In a few years, Savi won’t even remember Austin, the city in Texas we moved from over the summer. I know, because when I moved to Austin from Pittsburgh right around her age, I quickly forgot details, left only with a vague notion of warmth. All I remember is the snow in Pittsburgh, huge puffy pink snow pants, friends I found in our neighbors, experimenting on worms, and evenings spent trying to catch fireflies. 

It’s strange how history repeats itself, a new job, a new home, a new school, and eventually, new memories to replace the old. I left too much in Austin to forget. Austin was where all my friends were, where I diversified my relationships, and where I learned what it meant to grow up. In six years, Savi will be a different person with different experiences. But for now, she’s completely engrossed in the window. She isn’t even thinking about her next class period let alone the next few years. I glance up. 

What a difference those four steps I took to Savi’s desk made. Suddenly, I see rose quartz falling from the sky. The pale pink of a sunset outside the windows. A flurry of springtime snow. And my eyes want to grow larger to take in the whole world right outside that’s pushing its way in. I can almost swear I hear birds. If my life was a movie, a chorus would sing in the background, my hair would fly around my face, and I’d ask, “Is that a different world?” 

Magic can’t hold for long before reality kicks back in.

A petal flies into the window. Light pink and small, and I understand what’s happening. Our front-yard cherry blossom trees bloomed a few days ago, and the hard rain is pushing the petals down to the ground. Even with a logical reason, I can’t help but laugh. It’s raining flower petals. 

In Austin, our front yard was bland. Two big green bushes covered everything and even when they flowered in the spring, their tiny flowers attracted so many bees that we couldn’t truly appreciate it. If I was nine again, I would want to prove that I was better than my friends through empty posturing about having a pretty yard. But now that I have a slice of nature in my yard, I find that I don’t want to share the story of its glory with the world. This will be our memory to cherish.

I watch for a few more moments, looking down at the coating of petals on the ground. I’m enamored of the flower petals. I can’t move. I watch the petals fall, the wind pushing them onto our neighbors’ lawns, then pulling them back onto ours. If fairy tales happened, if princes came, if there is a heaven, they would all look like this. 

“Look, Shiv,” I point my twelve-year-old brother out his window, “It’s raining flowers.” I feel giddy. My smile feels like it could light up the room. He looks away from his computer, his eyes follow my finger, and he smiles too. The big, open smile that only my younger siblings can make. 

“I saw, I’ve been watching it ever since the rain started,” he tells me smiling as he returns to class. Lucky boy, in front of a window all the time. I sit in front of a wall plastered in all of the chemistry notes for the open-note tests. 

I finally tear my eyes away from the window and head back to my desk. But, I’m only half-listening as my teacher talks about the Treaty of Versailles, World War II, and the other legacies of the “Great War.” I’m lucky to be sitting here, the past a distant memory. For me, it’s raining beauty, and for those soldiers, it rained death and chemical warfare. And I wonder what would have happened, if one day, on the bloodied battlefields of the war, it rained flowers instead of bullets. 

My phone rings with the alarm for lunch, startling me into action. I close my laptop, and I run towards the hallway bridge outside my room to look through our giant window. The flowers are still falling, and now I can hear the rain. A torrent that sounds like YouTube Calming soundtracks played at full volume. 

Down the stairs, I turn into Papa’s study. He’s in a meeting with his headphones in, I wave my arms to get his attention and point outside. He smiles and nods, he’s seen the rain. I keep gesturing, and he looks again. His face lights in awe at the pink tornado outside that wants to pull your gaze into its swirling depths and never let it go. 

I loved Austin and felt my heart was tied there by too many strings to ever let go of the past, but I feel my heart making space for the present. Atlanta is where I can look outside and become nine again because it’s raining flowers. 


Sara Garg is a 16-year-old sophomore in high school and a poet. She started writing poetry in 4th grade and hasn’t stopped since. Her works have been read at the Matwaala South Asian Diaspora poetry festival and published in two of the anthologies of Austin International Poetry Festival as well as the Austin Bat Cave 2019 Anthology. She has won multiple awards for her poems including the Youth Poet of the Year Award 2017, Awards of Excellence for her PTA Reflections poems, and her district Young Georgia Writers’ Competition winner. 


 

Book cover of Zilka Joseph's 'Sparrows and Dust'

Zilka Joseph’s ‘Sparrows and Dust’ is a Heavy Read, But She Makes it Fly

I don’t know the color of a hummingbird’s throat. But when Zilka Joseph brings alive the “green-steel warrior”, I feel as though I’ve recognized the crimson feathers on its dainty neck as an old memory, a remnant of childhood held captive by poetry. That, I suppose, is the secret to Joseph’s pen — the ability to blur the boundaries between her world and those of her readers. This is precisely what she does in Sparrows and Dust, Joseph’s 30-page, Pushcart-nominated homage to her identity as a South Asian-American immigrant and more. As the name of this chapbook suggests, Joseph often draws upon the behaviors and appearances of birds, from beady-eyed sparrows to golden eagles, to explore the depths of her experience. In Sparrows and Dust, Zilka Joseph flits between memory and migration, fight or flight, in this pithy tribute to the birds that have shaped her. 

Joseph is a veteran poet and creative writing instructor, whose work has graced the pages of publications from Asia Literary Review to The Kali Project. Her experience with both writing poems and selecting them shines through in this book, which consists of only 19 poems. Although the brief Table of Contents left me unsure of Joseph’s work at first, later added to my appreciation of her strong sense of word economy and selection.

Every piece of this collection has a purpose, from the emphatic “Listen!” that forces readers to halt in their tracks in “For the Birds” to the “Please stay.” that closes off “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” like a lingering whisper. The poems themselves are generally short and pithy trips into her personal life, with choppy lineation that leaves the poems structurally “wispy”. In fact, that’s what struck me when I read this book for the first time; I felt as though the poems themselves tangibly reminded me of birds’ feathers, slipping out of the tongue and into flight. I suppose herein lies my only critique for this book; many of the structurally similar poems feel clumped together, rather than interwoven with the more visually experimental “Negative Capability” and “So Much”. Thematically, Joseph alternates between nostalgia and quiet introspection, bringing both her childhood home in Kolkata and her current wintry abode in Michigan alive. There’s an aura of desolate solitude to Sparrows and Dust; beyond herself and the birds she chooses to elucidate her emotions with, other characters feel like distant and sad recreations of Joseph’s memory. She channels this emotion beautifully in her leading titular poem, where she mentions how she has “never saved anyone or anything — my parents, the animals, and birds”. 

It’s interesting how Joseph can catch you so off-guard with moments like these. How despite her colorful illustrations of sparrows and their immutable relationship with the natural world, Joseph still creates a world that can be so empty and unforgivably fleeting. It’s not a happy space, but it’s where she thrives as a writer. Some of my favorite moments in this book are where Joseph slips into vulnerable dramatic monologues, whether that means begging with the spirit of her mother in “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” or describing the accidental death of an insect in “Good Intentions”. Strangely enough, she finds a way to convey the importance of both tragedies to her readers, despite our perceived emotional distance from her personal life or the seeming insignificance of an insect’s life. Each time, she leaves the readers clinging to an atmosphere that she has now made barren, by both reflecting on her past mistakes and also on her inability to reverse or rectify them. Personally, I felt especially forlorn after reading “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” and “Scenes from the Deck”; I rarely recognize the mortality in my own parents, and found myself seeking some kind of resolution or closure when the poems were over.  This way, I think it becomes easier to understand Joseph — just as she clings onto her memories, we will have to cling to her poems, despite the way they end. 

Sparrows and Dust is a short and good read, which does not force readers to feel certain emotions but invokes them regardless. Joseph’s third chapbook is illusive, rarely indulgent, and like the birds, she illustrates, never idle. 

With the author’s permission, I have chosen to reproduce her piece, “Scenes from the Deck” in this review to offer a preview into the book:  

Scenes from the Deck

I know how you love that word deck, Dad—

all those years you sailed around

the world. Began at Mazagon Docks,

Mumbai. 25 paise wages. Steamship days.

Diesel days. Deck, bridge, engine room

was home to you, Chief Engineer,

with the booming voice, always in charge,

everyone’s boss. Nothing changed

even when you grew old

and blind. You still wouldn’t listen.

Too late. Too late. Mum sank quickly,

suddenly she was gone. You fought

the storm, your ship still

strong and sea-worthy.

Drowned slowly

in the salt sea that filled

your lungs.

You clutched my hand

for hours. I sang Somewhere

over the Rainbow

by your hospital bed.

You moaned the words

inside the mask muzzling

your mouth. The voice

that bellowed a thousand commands.

Oh my father. Eagle with claws full

of thunderbolts. Now lying shattered

on the deck.

***


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the 2020 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication.