The International Literary Quarterly

August 2009


Shanta Acharya
Evgeny Baratynsky
Mary Caponegro
Peter France
Aamer Hussein
Edie Meidav
Ian Patterson
Mori Ponsowy
Jem Poster
Joan Retallack
Fiona Sampson
John Stauffer
Judith Taylor
Karen Thornber
Stephen Wilson
Leslie Woodard

Issue 8 Guest Artist:
Kenneth Draper RA

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Rosemary Ashton
Leonard Barkan
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jill Dawson
Junot Díaz
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Edith Grossman
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
Molly Haskell
Beatriz Hausner
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
John Kelly
Mimi Khalvati
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Suzanne Jill Levine
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Alberto Manguel
Marina Mayoral
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Susana Moore
Martha Nussbaum
Tim Parks
Caryl Phillips
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marina Warner
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Jeff Barry
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Six Poems by Shanta Acharya  

These poems are from Acharya's latest collection, Dreams That Spell The Light, forthcoming from Arc Publications, UK.

Black Swans

The highly expected not happening is also a Black Swan. *
        Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Look into your own history –
exile from family, friends, country, 
betrayed by those you placed your faith in,
always living at the margins
Yet nothing, yes nothing in your past
pointed to the unfurling of the present.
What has been, what might have been
two fractured landmasses drifting in time
acquiring individual perspectives;
not parallel lines meeting in infinity.
You wander down lives never lived,
thankful your own plans were shred to bits
though not entirely reconciled to the alternatives.
Is there free will? you ask as you sink
failing to swim against the tide; knowing
only dead fish swim with the stream.
Immense possibilities only appear
to be evenly distributed; not knowing the odds
we take risks, act against the gods.
There is no way of knowing what we don’t know.
No way of protecting us against uncertainty,
success or failure is always retrospective.
We build theories like terracotta armies
fallible guesses from fragmentary information.
Our limitations echo in memory
rearing up in dreams of the seemingly impossible,
our own lives, elegant black swans, in full flight….

* In his book, The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to an event with rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective predictability as a Black Swan. According to him, “a small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives.”


The Dream

The road ends abruptly like an unfinished sentence,
no sign-posts, no explanation; a dirt road
washed away in the rain, in the middle of the night,
in the middle of nowhere with no one to guide me there.
The landscape is luminous merging with a sky
showered with meteors, a celebration with fireworks.
I sit dazed in the car, locked like a jewel in a safe,
a garden enclosed, a well sealed up
waiting for someone to break into my solitude,
to disturb my peace, carry away the burden
Held secret all these years –
except I can no longer remember what it is.

My ideal partner would be someone like my self –
preferably never married; will settle for divorced
or widowed with children but with the right chemistry.
Tall, dark, slim and romantic; must have a GSOH.
Kind, understanding, generous, loyal, trustworthy,
goes without saying. Financially, emotionally secure;
well-educated, thoughtful, a man of action he must be.
Non-smoker, occasional drinker, must enjoy good food;
but be prepared to eat anything unless he wants to cook.
Must like reading, travelling, have a passion for Life.
Religion? A Brahmin would be nice but not essential.
I wrapped my expectations with a neat summation:
Don’t have a fixed idea of what I want, but know that
when we meet, I will know and so will he...
Having spent one balmy summer evening registering
I decided to cool off with a glass of chilled wine
thinking of the beautiful boy doing his best in time.
But I received a response straight away:
No matches found; change your criteria; be realistic.
That my ideal man was not found was a blow I confess.
It doesn’t mean such a man does not exist
I reasoned pulling my self-esteem back into harness.
He is simply not registered with this agency!
Having determined to do something about it
I persisted in my pursuit of Mr Almost Right.
Must try other agencies, cast my net wider;
mean while, no harm in checking out what’s on offer, 
be less fussy, let Karma in on such a deep matter –
Age: Doesn’t matter; Marital status: Doesn’t matter.
Children: Doesn’t matter; Country of residence: Doesn’t matter.
Height: Doesn’t matter; Education: Doesn’t matter.
Religion: Doesn’t matter; Occupation: Doesn’t matter.
I was inundated with suitors, crashing my computer.


Easter Message

Swathed in a dirty shawl, embracing large bundles of carrier
bags like dead infants in her arms, she sits in the carriage
indifferent to the Underground destinations we tunnel through.
She speaks to herself in a language I fail to decipher,
her direct gaze into my eyes reminds me of my mother.
Another commuter leans forward as if to answer her questions,
thinking she asked for directions; a foreigner lost in the Tube.
Life taught her never to depend on the kindness of strangers...
Her eyes are nomad, her words nonsense. He listens, she smiles.
For an instant they try to converse.
A refugee from Croatia, Kosovo or Albania, she is a survivor.
We hear the words but do not understand her story.
She pauses briefly and chuckles on her fate
before she starts like a scratched record all over again.
I get off at Victoria; the carriage disgorges
itself and gets choked again. She sits there oblivious
to stations and announcements on the Circle Line
embracing her carrier bags, dead infants in her arms.


Going Home

For Doris Lessing  

Look after her, she is your responsibility…”
You hear a stranger’s voice – small, personal, urgent –
before vanishing; and you watch over a child
miraculously brought into your care.
Life mere briefing for a descent into hell;
all are part of a larger rhythm you can tell.
The sun lies at our feet in this four-gated city.
The wind blows away our words,
not the prisons we choose to live in.
Assume nothing, consider all sides;
things could easily have turned out differently.
Was it like this for you, too? she enquires
recounting her childhood experiences.
Growing up is a place where everything’s cracked up
nothing’s permanent; no foundations solid.
You look at things from different angles,
lying in the grass singing, summer before the dark...    
Every survivor needs a memoir, a golden notebook;
writing a habit of loving, like breathing.
All of us are shaped by war, twisted and warped,
our inner battles spilling out from under our skin;
Our body, the old chief’s country, landlocked –
like a proper marriage, a ripple from the storm.
Having known many homes, many dreams
you learn finally to live with the freedom of a spirit,
heart like a prairie field, open –
Not the dispossession of one shut behind a door,
holding it ajar only to be greeted by desperate,
unceasing, inaudible screams.


The Wishing Tree

Children conspiring around the ancient
tree trunk encircle it with their voices 
clamouring to cover branches with tinsel –
Calligraphically scripted dreams,
poems of love, coins at the bottom of a well,
prayer flags at monasteries
        along foothills of Himalayas. 
A father hoists his son on his shoulders
tall as he leans to tie a prayer on a wing;
Mother and daughter, hands outstretched
        cast dreams that spell the light:
If only I could walk
        in the hearts of my enemies
Let father be able to speak again…
        Let my sister regain her sight…
Let mother come home soon from hospital…
Let my brother who left home a year ago return…
        Let there be peace in our world…
Let no child die of hunger …
May God hold us always
        in the palm of his hand…