208.1: Anis Shivani:: from Death is a Festival 208

Oh, the cat again. Sometimes I think she’s a weird alien from another planet or an ancient creature that's time traveled into this future. She is meowing her head off at me, though she's already gotten food, a trip outside, water and her daily massage. She meows at me to see what else I’ll give her. And though such behavior could become tiresome, she always manages to do something entrancing when I'm on the verge of irritation, ensuring I’m endlessly charmed. Such are these sonnets from Anis Shivani’s “Death is a Festival.”

Exploring tensions between interpretations of death or loss and the desire to live and thrive, these weird and playful sonnets are reminiscent of Berryman’s “Dream Songs.” They swing wildly between high and low diction, at times onomatopoetic (“clomp-clomp”), at others downright baroque (“the clapboarding on the sunny side of chaos”). This poet even places Glenn Gould at the piano “gazing wistfully at the hockey game.” While the voices of these poems span various times and places—none feeling quite like our own—bits of utterance make the painted scenes real: “I heard what you said when you grabbed that rope”; “a hundred francs goes nowhere these days.” Alongside poetic overtures like apostrophe (“O cicerone”) and heavy symbolism (“our ghost is clad in … whiteness the abstraction”), these moments of real speech charm and delight. They run (with us, the readers) excitedly away from death and ghosts (and all those old dead poetry things) at the same time that they linger over them. These poems, which try so hard to place themselves outside our own times and places, inevitably end up back with us, nagging us for more attention and making bread in the softness of our bellies. S. Whitney Holmes


I cannot defy my own mutinous followers
to turn me out of office, the baser elements
have mutinied against the golden sun: the
beggar makes a mumping face and knocks

at every gate. I cannot do better than study
the history of the middle ages, like a blighted
colander—tradition of construction in brick.
A cigar or cigarette is held in the mouth,

obscure clouds molded by the casual air,
a glass-cutter’s pattern, the opening of the
suture of the infant’s head—I heard what
you said when you grabbed that rope. Our

ghost is clad in white, not dead mull-mull
or nainsook, but whiteness the abstraction.


Down I fell on my back, down the dead
flight of stairs, a faint clop-clop of Mahbub’s
retreating feet—Glenn Gould might well be
sitting at the piano gazing wistfully at the

hockey game outside. My boots go clop
along the stony ground, I, sir, dedicating
genius to the cloacaline floods. Twenty-
seven folio volumes cleanly drilled through

by the larva of the beetle, a prison for
Indian princes standing around or about,
bystanders, their faces cicatrized with
little patches of burnt furze. O cicerone,

in so wide a kingdom, point out to me the
clapboarding on the sunny side of chaos.


The fairest oratrice to win my attention:
tears orb themselves beneath the prof-
essor’s lids, the part of the catechism
written for the lower orders. Such a

process is called first-order, converging
to death. I mean the oriole, the roar of the
outboard engine splintering my dreams,
I mean more prolific in breeding than

big-mouthed thunder, the old sea-rovers.
The “other place” never seemed to me com-
plete, here is the fellowship of the other
orienteers in front of the oldland stream.

It is just like a furnace, a man advanced
in life, synonymous with father or mother.


Pets are in highest demand with non-persons,
best for woodcock shooting, norfolk suits—
a right is a no-right, in opposition to all other
churches and chapels. I think in a few years

the people should increase to a notable no.
The root of dandelion being cut in November,
the first use of numbered leaves, the bird
living on wild nutmeg, a great bed of now-

existing shells: a hundred francs goes no-
where these days—by those surprising nods
of the poles a dead sort of a dinner. We all
collected nori, the seaweed along the beach.

Now the police are away, I insist upon hear-
ing, there are some gaps in the clay material.