Where do the constellations we name as the self begin? What does it mean to belong to a family, a nation, a past? “Anthem,” the first poem in Kirun Kapur’s debut collection, opens into such questions, saying:
“I’m not talking / about a place, but a country: / Its laws are your mother, its walls / Are your dreams. The flag it flies // Is your father, waving.”
These lines are a fair map of lyric terrain—an inquiry into the geopolitics of imagination and nostalgia, an exploration of the trade routes of the heart. Indeed, Kapur has rich subjects to probe: the past lives of her mother, once a Benedictine novitiate; of her father, an immigrant whose family was divided by India’s 1947 partition; and of her family itself, which, to her, is at once unfathomable and intimately beloved.
These poems are equal parts love song and reckoning. Weaving together strands that include Hafiz, Islamabad newspapers, Bollywood film and the Ramayana, Kapur traces tribal and national violence, circling the unsettling places where these eruptions converge on her family’s life. Often her poems are split with jagged omissions, like when the speaker (a proxy for Kapur) asks her father for answers about saving relatives lost in partition’s violence, and gets told, “You should eat more loki.” There’s evasiveness here, the kind of absence that makes a daughter lean in toward a story, wanting to know what’s in the space that’s been obscured.