The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Two (Divakaruni)

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
“The World Tree”

Just a couple of hours ago, I had the most exhilarating conversation with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni for Tiferet Talk. If you were not able to listen live, I urge you to listen to the archive as soon as possible. She said the most beautiful things about the importance of telling stories and building communities. As well, in honor of her recent novel, One Amazing Thingshe shared with us a truly amazing story from her own life. What a gift this interview was!

Needless to say, I’ve chosen one of Divakaruni’s poems to memorize this week. It comes from the collection Leaving Yuba City, which was published in 1997 and encompasses a variety of topics. Here’s a blurb from Booklist: “Everything Divakaruni touches with her exquisitely sensitive writer’s mind—whether it’s a memory, or a scene between wife and husband—turns to gold. She demonstrated her mastery of the short story in Arranged Marriages, and of the novel in The Mistress of Spices , and now shows her mastery of poetry in this bittersweet volume, her third collection. Each of her lyrical and haunting poems opens slowly, like a flower, then rapidly picks up speed and intensity until it glows like a meteor as it plunges into the deepest recesses of the heart. Divakaruni begins with devastatingly eloquent evocations of a sorrowful childhood in Darjeeling, then moves on to imaginative and compelling poems inspired by the photographs of Raghubir Singh, paintings by Francesco Clemente, and films by Indian directors, including Satyajit Ray and Mira Nair. In the final section, she dramatizes the circumscribed lives of persecuted Punjab farmers who immigrated early in this century to Yuba City, California. Strongly narrative, shimmeringly detailed, and emotionally acute, Divakaruni’s poetry embraces pain and beauty in its affirmation of grace.”

I hope you enjoy the poem and the interview as much as I did!

The World Tree

The tree grows out of my navel. Black
as snakeskin, it slithers upward, away
from my voice. Spreads
across the entire morning, its leaf-tongues
drinking the light. It bores its roots
into my belly till I can no longer tell them
from my dry, gnarled veins. And when it is sure
I will never forget the pain
of its birthing, it parts its branches

so I can see, far
in that ocean of green,
a figure, tiny and perfect, pale
as ivory, leaning
on his elbow. He looks down and I know
that mouth, those eyes. Mine.
I raise my arm. I am calling
loud as I can. He gazes
into the distance, the bright, rippling
air. It is clear
he sees, hears nothing. I continue
to call. The tree grows and grows
into the world between us.

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