Culture & Society

Poems: Of The Ocean, Roses And A River

Simrita Dhir’s poems bear witness to the myriad implications of North American Colonialism and celebrate the Native American spirit; primordial rivers; primeval foliage and human resilience

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Hammock by the Ocean

The lands speaks to me, bares its secrets. I clutch a fistful of the rocky soil, fondle

the dandelion strewn grass, sit by the old oaks, listen to thrumming waves. We are

of distant worlds. The lore of the land reverberates in me though I have not

lived it. Loss is subliminal; it contours the land, a stream running through the

meshes of mind, cerebral symphonies echoing in time. I discover a mortar and a

grinding stone along a cliff, remnants of a bygone time. Things can throb with love

and longing. Something in me breaks, aches, pulsates. A raindrop splashes upon

my open palm. Rain is unpredictable like life, a primordial song coming to sing itself. I croon to it,

divergent paths align wordlessly by fallen acorns, new footsteps on old.

Home is a hammock by the ocean.

Roses in the Lagoon

Roses grow in the lagoon

They are primal, resilient, dense

Like the lagoon

And like the lagoon

They have lived all times

Ancient old new

Unlike the lagoon

They tell intrepid stories—

Rhapsodic truthful heartbreaking

Of Native perseverance

Of Spanish expansion

Of bygone Mexican ranches

Of the timeless creek that

runs by the old pines

Of a war long ago

I snip a cluster of roses and bring them home

Their stories gain dimension

War plays out before my eyes—Mexican ranches making way for American farms and estate homes

I hold the blooms close

My suburban story flares in me

Like the blaze of roses

What the Postcards don’t Tell

San Diego is a beach town. The postcards tell that story well—frothy blue waters, white sand, the surfer boys gliding on waves, the orange sun sinking into the Pacific. There is another story, too. The one that the post cards don’t tell. We are also a river town. Yes, there is a 52-mile-ribbon of blue that gushes down the Volcan Mountains, passing through town to jump into the Pacific. That ribbon of blue is our beautiful San Diego River. The one that the native inhabitants, the Kumeyaay, called the Upside Down River because its waters disappeared in the summer, seeping below the shimmering sand to flow underground. While it is no Nile, Thames, Danube, or Seine, or for that matter, even the Vltava, the San Diego River, is our much loved river, a sacred symbol of life. Away from the hype of the beaches, it is a cool, serene secret tucked among shrubs and trees. Yes, the one that the postcards don’t tell. Running through time for nearly 2000,000 years, the river has seen it all—the travails of the natives, and the much later rapid occupation of the land by the Europeans. Quietly, it continues to watch as new immigrants settle in the land, scribbling yet braver stories along its banks even as frisky bass and catfish dance on its rising and ebbing waters, old willows looking on. Sometimes, I walk along the river in old town, bunches of wildflowers sprouting from the grass, breeze ruffling my hair. Always, always, I have a Huck Finn moment and I burst into a smile. Much like the legendary Mississippi, our little river, too, is an adventure, a metaphor, a treasure waiting to be unearthed, an ongoing party, a dream uninterrupted. It flows through minds, rising and retreating by turns. Now you know the other story. Never mind those post cards.

(Simrita Dhir lectures at the University of California, San Diego, and is the author of acclaimed novels The Rainbow Acres and The Song of Distant Bulbuls.)