Usha Akella has authored three books of poetry, one chapbook, and scripted and produced one musical drama. She is pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing at Cambridge University, UK. She read with a group of eminent South Asian Diaspora poets at the House of Lords in June 2016. Her work has been included in the Harper Collins Anthology of Indian English Poets. Her recent book ‘The Rosary of Latitudes’ carries a foreword by Keki Daruwalla.
She was selected as a Cultural Ambassador for the City of Austin for 2015. She has been published in numerous Literary journals, and has been invited to prestigious international poetry festivals in Slovakia, Nicaragua, Macedonia, Colombia, Slovenia, India etc. She is the founder of ‘Matwaala’ the first South Asian Diaspora Poets Festival in the US. (Edition 1: 2015, Austin, Director; Edition 2: 2017, Long Island/NYC, Director: Pramila Venkateswaran). She has won literary prizes (Nazim Hikmet award, Open Road Review Prize and Egan Memorial Prize), and enjoys interviewing artists, scholars and poets for reputed magazines. She has written a few quixotic nonfiction prose pieces published in The Statesman and India Currents.
She is the founder of the Poetry Caravan in New York and Austin which takes poetry readings to the disadvantaged in women’s shelters, senior homes, hospitals. Several hundreds of readings have reached these venues via this medium. The City of Austin proclaimed January 7th as Poetry Caravan Day.
The pent-up scooters, bikes, whatnot,
the mountainous-heave of humanity,
needle-like this width is actually a road
when cleared, the hawking life here
was an artery of my childhood,
holding her pallu, winding our way to the goldsmith…
kid brother tagging along, breathless in this flummery of life.
Masterji is still up the steps behind the bag store,
bags pasted on the wall like birds stamped on a tree,
paan-stained teeth, he is apologetic,
of course, the album cover is not ready,
of course, he needs two more days,
of course, I will come again, and again,
till it is ready to see his decades-worn fingers
among the spindles and color bobbins, bills fluttering
on a wire, ramshackle history of orders taken,
this wizened dealer of female vanities reflected in his perfected eye,
the dull gold or leaf-green? He ponders the
bobbins, colored chess pieces in his eyes.
My daughter lags behind the sun,
on the other side of night in the maze of school, activities, homework,
trying to remember to call me, filial duty in the hours breaking like
algebra around her…here, I bargain for rhinestone rangolis,
peacock gemmed plaits, paisley giveaway bags,
knowing the real deal’s been done,
the child’s always the bargain in the whole messy transaction.
This is where the hair fell
Scribble of an alley of outstretched beggar-bowls,
shivering triangles, saffron flags flutter,
turmeric stains sindooor smears squelch milk honey incense—
the messy religious memoranda in the sanctum sanctorum,
the gong heavy in the hand the lift the fall the reverberation
on the map of the palm, the shiver of this thread of awakening,
Nandi embodies our waiting for a God made of stone,
alive to his eye, alive to the circumambulations of faith.
… he, unloosened with grief in the cosmos, mourns,
his arms growing empty to the relentless work of the discus,
her body-parts falling, temples rising on this desecration,
the finality of release sends him
to an inner world beyond realms we don’t know exists… till
she born again, mountain-girl, his name on her first breath
awakened him with her devotion…
We’re hooked to this first grand love story born with the stars,
to these stories that erase Freud and science,
Here! In awe where the hair fell,
Here! In the timeless fracture of selves,
Up here, he waits, fiercely-mustached lingam
stoned in grief, and senseless with faith devotees prostrate,
cornucopia of marigold and melodies of rose petals…
something trembles within the hoops of cellular remembrance.
To her we go: swallowed by the gullet staircase
to the smoldering heart of our own being it seems,
her macabre presence, something horrifically real,
startled by eyes that hold us as pinpoints of stars,
silver slits in the dark-hypnotic visage.. alone, she too alone,
the fires in lamps are little whisked meteors,
leaping away fiercely in the air,
here hope can bloom like a blood-red hibiscus,
take back the dark feminine, she nails it in the subterranean.
Layers of ladyfingers soaked in mocha latte,
layered with whipped cream, cranberry jam, ganache,
What does this mean in a household teetering like Jell-O?
This random Facebook post, a leaf byte falling
to make you salivate, the offerings on someone’s table,
while a child’s heart’s ripped as butterfly wings,
one mother, one father, Child, my child! I cry,
her mind’s shaky-flaky pastry crumbling,
my guilt is cotton-stuffing on a scab,
a Dettol singe in a house of torn-ligament-hours.
Daughter of mine, I am bleeding too as I bleed you,
What are my offerings to you?
My heart marinated mango in mustard and chilies
on our less-than-white, more-than-black skin,
kali mirch soaking into apples, cardamom-spiced whipped cream,
the avoidance of eye-to-eye, unblended condiments of conversation,
another failed morning at the threshold.
I do not want to be that mother flying, flying furiously on my broom,
or that one who is found
under the house,
. after a house flies and crashes,
. and you child are Dorothy so befuddled,
. a grown-up in a gingham dress.