boulder

Being Brown with Breasts

Posted Posted in Blog

By Rishita Acharya

“Being Brown with Breasts” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 

Poet

A poet is Sisyphus with a boulder
Words are nothing but bullets made of plastic

Words are something more than just plastic
Ginsberg, Manto, Chugtai were put on trial

A poem can carry the seed of an idea 
A poem is a spine I write into my tongue

I write to save my soul. Save my tongue
I write for you and me to spin some sun

One day the poet will sell all the sun
To keep picking up the pen in defiance

The peak is the moment of victory in defiance
A poet is Sisyphus with a boulder

Foetal Anatomy Survey

Does my chest count as a witness to
my mother’s sob buried in it on the nights
her heart was a sky scratched red
with the sun burning down into the ground
With its memory lost like milk teeth
this country I am a daughter in
will curdle into white chunks
if the scream of the pink oceans
of every mother’s womb is let out
If the gates of the dams,
of every household are left open
Where our questions are drowned 
in a bowl of milk like they would have
drowned us if our mother’s mother
didn’t fly across the milky way to 
Save

Il est interdit d’interdire

You snap the bones 
of our slogans
bury them
in Saffron soil.
Wash our wall graffitis
with tear gas and
Paint propaganda, Paint
them bright yellow with achhe din.

Why does an artist scare you? 

You break into our libraries, 
send our tongues to jail.
You make our nibs stand
with guns pointed at their temples,
watch them break but 
they will not bend.

Why does a student scare you? 

This poem is a plastic gun it wants to believe
Our slogans are seeds
they sprout from the grave you make for them
We have enough blood in our veins to repaint
every graffiti and our nibs may break but 
the splattered ink will land like an echo
Until we have a world where 
forbidding is forbidden.

Why does love scare you? 

Writer’s Commentary:

Each poem is a deep dive within myself as much as it is an attempt to digest this strange, ugly-beautiful world. The language of poetry allows me to examine that which is forbidden to me. When I think of us, those who strive to glimmer on the peripheries of a power-laden center—we womxn, queer, people of colour (and so on), and those who live on the dangerous intersectionality of such peripheries—I think there are caves in our hearts, but boulders guard their mouths. These caves are spaces of unexamined, prohibited power and possibilities. These caves are dangerous because they are us: deep-throated, unknown, and always threatening to swallow their surroundings. And poetry is my attempt at cracking, pushing these boulders, letting in some light into these cavernous depths.

I imagine that my poems are formed like fold mountains. The tectonic plate of what is happening in my life, beyond the borders of myself, collides with the plate of what I am reading at that point of time. This is true for the poems “Poet” and “Il est interdit d’interdire.” I wrote these in early 2020, deeply disturbed by the nationwide protests in my country against the infamous Citizen Amendment Act and the government’s attempts at curbing them. 

Coincidentally, I was also studying the rise of literary theory and the student protests of 1984 in France that raised the slogan Il est interdit d’interdire, which translates to “it is forbidden to forbid.” This is what inspired the title and content of my poem of the same name. The crackdowns on students and artists by authoritarian governments is their attempt to spread fear, to set an example, and show that tear gas and batons subdue tongues, hands, and spines. There is a forgetting, too, that the body remembers. And in India, intolerance is on rise. I dread reading and watching the news because of the hate speech that is constantly spouted. 

Around this time, I also came across a phenomenal collection of poetry, The Tradition, by Jericho Brown. His poems are stories of survival and grit, and this is how “Poet” was born.

I was inspired by the form of his poem “Duplex” because it allowed me to create so many layers of meaning within my poem. As a poet, I often swing between moments of hope and moments of despair. This is reflected throughout my poetry, but the form of “Duplex” allowed me to capture that ambiguity very well. I was reminded of the uselessness of our words against the charges of sedition and obscenity, tear gas sprays, bullets, and water cannons. Helpless, I wrote, “Words are nothing but bullets made of plastic.” The poem “Il est interdit; interdire” also has a line “This poem is a plastic gun it wants to believe.” And yet, I think we always undermine the power of words that contain truth. No wonder that, historically, authoritarian regimes have always been terrified of free speech and writers. Similarly, access to education and books has been denied to women or minority castes. 

I feel I can never share my work with my extended family or relatives steeped in patriarchal mindset because feminist, pro-LGBTQ, and liberal content is seen as moral degradation and deviation from traditional values. I have felt that my content is on trial too. The irony is, at moments, I have been the biggest censor of my own work. The sexism and homophobia I internalized growing up led me to call my work unworthy, disrespectful, immoral. So, each poem is an attempt to “save my soul,” to write what I feel honestly about myself and the society.

I use the symbol of Sisyphus in “Poet” to write about poets who write to expose the weaknesses, problems of society. This is not a one-time task. You can’t write once and consider your job done. As poets, we have to pick up the pen again and again. It is not that the world has suddenly metamorphosed into a horrible place. With every generation, new challenges arrive. One generation of writers passes on the baton of resistance to the next. I have been inspired by the grit of authors like Allen Ginsberg, Sadat Hasan Manto, and Ismat Chugtai. Chugtai was so radical that her story “Lihaaf,” which talked about lesbianism and female desires as early as 1942, caused her to face the obscenity trial like her fellow and contemporary writer Manto. I also wanted to give the myth of Sisyphus a spin. A poet carrying this boulder doesn’t have to be seen as a curse. There are moments of victory; at the summit of the mountain, Sisyphus is victorious, he defeats fate, if only momentarily (I was also influenced by Camus at that point). These thoughts are reflected at the end of the poem, “The peak is the moment of victory in defiance.”

I believe poetry and protest go hand in hand. But while I am writing, I am not conscious that “oh, I am going to protest! This is my resistance against what tries to kill me.” I write these poems because I don’t know how else to survive.

Some poems are too personal, like “Foetal Anatomy Survey,” but I still share them because I believe that they may help someone out there feel less alone. Somewhere, a girl will read this and find strength – if someone else has made it, I will, too. I strongly agree with Audre Lorde’s words that “poetry is not luxury.” Black womxn poet-artists inspire me. I am a huge fan of Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez, Lucille Clifton, and Amanda Gorman. Adrienne Rich is another poet who has soothed my soul on many hard days. The poem “Foetal Anatomy Survey” comes from a place of agony and anger. When I think of the trauma and oppression that my mother and her mother have survived, it makes my blood boil. I think this is reflected in the imagery of the poem. But both have taught me that despair and bitterness is never an option. It is sickening to realise that in many states of India, like Rajasthan (the one I come from), Haryana, and Punjab, female foetuses are aborted because there is a preference for male children. Dowry practices further add to the belief that girls are a burden. Even after the ban on sex selection, many clinics continue to illegally conduct foetal anatomy surveys and female foeticides. I am aware of my privilege of being alive, pursuing academics and my passion. And this privilege of voice, this stage I am speaking from, so you can hear our stories, is built from the blood and bones of my sisters and mothers.


Rishita Acharya (she/her) is a student and spoken word artist pursuing a Master’s in English Literature. Her poetry is like her small hometown in Rajasthan, India—simple, growing, but always connected to its roots. You can write to her to rave about poets and poetry at risharockstar@gmail.com.

Photo by Simon Hurry

fuzzy bee on purple flower

When Bees Used to Do This

Posted Posted in Blog

By K. James D’Agostino

“When Bees Used to Do This” is part of a new series at Multiplicity focusing on writers and their craft. Each blog publication features original work followed by commentary from the writer on its genesis, giving us unusual insight into both the work itself and the process of artistic creation. 


A pink-flowering tree concealed a beehive, given away by the swarm’s constant drone. Along the way home from school, I’d duck into the muddy creek bed to stay clear. This was the creek where my cousin caught a snake in a lunchbox and brought it home; I opened it to peek, and Dad hauled me away. After rain, the creek would be a roaring violence, a brown crash washing out old mud for new. Afterward, the creek bed would not resemble itself, though I could never say how. 

I’ll feel this again decades later, walking that same way home I once walked, when I might stop at a familiar mound of grass and ask my brother beside me, Did there used to be a tree here? and he might just shrug. Like I might ask him when was the last time he saw a beehive and he may answer, I’m not sure I ever have. But we have, I know. Like I might now ask my cousin if he remembers that one time with the snake in the lunchbox, and he might answer, Did that happen? in his basement where he has hand-built two-meter glass squares to house the six reticulated pythons he adores. He can forget how things began, but life remembers: from that moment, the boxes got bigger and more expensive, the snakes more dangerous, but it follows a steady course. He might say, That sounds like me. The snakes of now have pushed out of his memory the snakes of then.

These days I grow milkweed and count monarch caterpillars in the garden. They ask me, Do you remember how many butterflies there used to be? God, they used to be everywhere! And I don’t. Not at first. But they point at the bark on nearby trees and remind me: Yellow, furry caterpillars all over the trees near your childhood home, hundreds and thousands of them, so many cocoons they lined the house’s wood paneling with silk. I recall enough to say, I tried to raise them in a bottle every year. They always died. And I, using cotton swabs to pollinate flowers by hand, ask, Do you remember when bees used to do this? They say, No. We did see a bee today. Just one bee, so peaceful in its patient murmur, so yellow and heavy, that we can’t seem to remember. We have lost that world. We have lost even the memory of that world.

Writer’s Commentary

The second issue of Reckoning, a literary journal, begins with an essay by Michael J. DeLuca: “On Having a Kid in the Climate Apocalypse.” It’s powerful. Among his many thoughts, DeLuca notes declining animal populations, and laments that his newborn child might never see salamanders or living coral. I was thinking about that notion a lot at the time, asking myself: what did I know when I was young that our children never will?

A farming co-op nearby was offering beekeeping classes and my wife and I were talking very seriously about bees. It came up that she’d never seen a beehive before and didn’t know what they sound like. I realized it had been a long time since I’d come across one myself. How long had it been? When was the last time I just, simply, passed by a beehive in a tree somewhere?

This question unlocked memories that I… had not exactly forgotten, but had just never taken the time to remember. Once I remembered the beehive, the tree, the creek, all kinds of memories came back, the associations, the people, like scenes added on the front of stories that I knew very well. This all collided with the environmental question I’d been belaboring. I realized that it’s not only the next generation losing these things, but us ourselves, who are already failing to remember them. I tried to discuss it with my wife, but it was too abstract for me to really verbalize, so I ended up writing it instead.

The structure of my essay wasn’t accidental. In my first draft I tried to relate my memories and associations in a way that captured how fast they’d returned to me. It was messy and incoherent, but I liked its indirect abstraction; it was, after all, about my memories more than my thoughts. That first draft was overly long, so lost the sharp pang I’d hoped to achieve. To revise, I set myself a limit of 400 words, which is a much stricter limit than I usually impose. I had to chop off roughly half of that first draft and minimize sentences down to only their most essential concepts, but I did achieve a satisfactory draft of exactly 400 words. To finish, I gave myself back a few extra words so that I could linger in the final sentence longer, wanting to dwell in the solastalgia.

Environmental themes slip into my writing a lot, but with this essay I wanted to strike it deliberately. This essay carries a different feeling than other environmental writing I’ve done, besides just melancholy or even bitterness. This essay, I think, might be my attempt to tell a reader to engage mindfully in remembering, similar to the way that I accidentally managed to remember. It may be an attempt to say: you have lost something, and you don’t remember what you have lost, and you should care about that.


K. James D’Agostino (they/them) is an author and poet, and an editorial assistant for the Ninth Letter literary journal. They have a BA from the University of Houston and are currently an MFA candidate at the University of Illinois. Their most recent work has been published in The Gravity of The Thing and the KAIROS Literary Magazine. Follow them on Twitter @KJRussell_write.

Photo by Jenna Lee