Parmar received an MA in Creative Writing (poetry) from the University of East Anglia in 2003 and studied for her BA at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the Reviews Editor for The Wolf magazine and researched at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she was co-editing the writings of the modernist poet Hope Mirrlees. Mirrlees' selected poems will be published by Fyfield Books (Carcanet Press) in 2011. She has published articles on Loy's archived prose: one in Jacket magazine and a chapter in the Salt Companion to Mina Loy (2010).
Her monograph on Mina Loy's autobiographies, Myth of the Modern Woman, is forthcoming from Rodopi Press. A selection of her poetry appears in the anthology of emerging British poets, Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (edited by James Byrne and Clare Pollard). Her poetry has been published in various journals in the UK and the US, such as The Wolf, Cimarron Review, The Manhattan Review, Stand and Magma and is forthcoming in the HarperCollins Book of English Poetry by Indians.
She has taught at the University of Hertfordshire and University of Cambridge. Currently, she is at New York University, where she is a Visiting Scholar at NYU's Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and is also writing her biography of Hope Mirrlees. She is completing a first collection of poems, The Marble Orchard.
Old woman, old mother—white nucleus
incerebrate in your chair—
the price of cruelty is sacrifice. Repent. Or put away your pearls and scarves.
Toothless grand-mère—we capsize at your tidal axis.
Your son, a sort of Paris,
contemplates an apple, split open, hotwires each slumberous lobe.
Its cranial juices electrify. He feeds memory—that grievous syrup—
to his wide-eyed Helen in teaspoons. Tempts her from death with its mortal pabulum.
Prima-mater Great-matter your narratives enslave—
Epic vanity—at such a premium!
At birth your name meaning the ‘absolute best’ was made ordinary by marriage.
(What husband could outwit such prospects?)
Your daughters run to the temple, to pour an impossible bath into a leaking vessel.
G1P1 (elderly gravida)
Cleopatra eloping through a three-storey window rots on the vine
in the nurses’ housing. Struck off the family register
she peddles her blush pigmata (in a fuss of black leather)
half-wisdoms paling at her mother’s locked stare.
Do you remember us all running up the stairs and never saying why?
She husbands a bumbling anglo-bolus whom her father can all but swallow.
Having mastered the rhetorical compliment at a young age
she vivisects her ego hourly before the mirror—
forgetting her forced cure for pre-martial morning sickness
or that pell-mell in Las Vegas, jellying in the Mojave sun.
Her twin Samsons raise their jeweled kirpans to proud ovations
from bearded uncles: Raj Karega Khalsa
(the rest of you can go to Hell).
Am I ugly?
Daemon Beauty whines at her bedside in long gray plaits—
a ghost of an ancestor steps easily into her, reeks of dry burial
of fingers around neck sores of unscattered bones.
The martyr-mystic with holy-water cosmetology
wrinkles sincerely over Bollywood soap operas
believes they are true stories
that every tree trunk on every Indian plain secrets a hoard
of costume changes.
She adulterates with a radio DJ falls hard for ad breaks
stirring her tea with a long-distance arranged marriage.
Romeo FM impales himself on her pure white promise
alone in the sepulcher.
Dusting for prints her husband tears open her homespun
inflicts her with children.
She dons her new habit with conviction.
Her house is spotless she garlands each of the ten gurus on her knees.
God in her own image grandmother
meets Lord Krishna.
He presses a diamond into her forehead they levitate.
At the door a half-light of her husband
will not enter the house. She waves.
Grand misery grand hope grandeur
she insists on childhood castles of a hundred doors
and the ownership of one giant cannon.
Something has left this house. The bill has been paid.
It took grandfather’s death to bring us to the source, or so they say, of it.
An animal skin curdling black in an attic room
a gift from a wandering sage the gift of pure vision.
Alone on the tiger skin my grandmother quietly rose inches off the floor.
But word spread and the skin was given away by her husband
to another he couldn’t refuse. She raved. The skin returned
via a marauding servant who called her ‘mother’. It had changed in colour,
was maybe a donkey, or something worse, and would not rise again.
Decades later my grandfather called out in someone’s dream to get rid of it—
an agitated soul without rest. When he died his daughters were warned against
clothing their father in anything they had bought, lest he be kept from heaven.
Get it out of the house! He cried. My grandmother could not remember the skin.
Hanging in the air with such enmity are the words you will never speak.
They are the element that knows me best the wind
addressing me with blackened voice
from expirations only the past can answer.
Why have you come here now with your light, unwieldy throat?
Even though I know your skin is the terrible sound of evening
its terrible music cutting from a kitchen window
where knives slip through hot water like eaves of sea water
glowering between angles of dusk
there is no measure by which I can take your hand
push out of this nightfall through a garden gate that turns on a spit.
Tragedy needs no master—it is the grandmother of invention.
Vanity slight as a girl’s wrist
weaves it from cruelty is hewn from a single slight
so minor that it bears forth its epic image in stone
from which there is no god or woman to flatter it to sleep.
poem by Sandeep Parmar