While curating the poems for this issue, the team employed a new ‘democratic’ approach (rather than the traditional tiered selections), where each associate editor could nominate a poet or two that they absolutely, certainly, wholeheartedly wanted to feature in the magazine. Personally, it made for an interesting shaking up, because the discussions — and decisions — served as a rare peek into another editorial mind. I had already encountered Feby Joseph’s poems in other poetry groups but the endorsement helped me re-view Joseph’s immersive poetic register, specifically his compelling world-building.
The business of world-building is usually left to fictionists, but a set like Joseph’s quickly dismantles this stereotype. From the lake in the first poem, through the church in the next and the orange-effused kitchen in the last, it is clear that none of these poems could have happened in any other setting. I was struck by the necessity of this particular place at that particular time for each particular insight. While the themes of the poems serve as an emotional map, we can also link each one to an irreplaceable physical landscape. This, combined with Joseph’s turns and loops of language, make for a suite that is as inventive as it is intuitive.
— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine
Duck-Hunting with Uncle Stephen
Uncle Stephen always took the early boat –
I used to grumble that the sun wasn’t even up then.
It’s the best time, he would say, but I remember father
coming home in the evening, a blue-green head
hanging slenderly out of his leather bag.
Uncle often came back empty handed.
I’d hang my head upside down from the edge
of the boat; I had no interest in duck hunting.
Uncle Stephen, it turned out, didn’t either.
About 20 yards away, swayed gently – Miss Pam
and her old rickety boat. Uncle only had eyes for her.
No wonder he was such a bad shot.
He’s perfectly aged, mum used to laugh. He’s been hanging
around her for 20 years, and I just hang my ducks for 5 days…
Later, Miss Pam died in a weird horse-riding accident
and Uncle Stephen stopped going to hunt ducks
and became a minister in a church, two towns south.
His ducks are all store-bought now. Frozen.
Whenever I used to ask him about Miss Pam,
my uncle would feign ignorance and divert the subject.
I still remember, my head hanging upside down the boat,
my hair wet from the lake water – Sometimes, I’d dip
a bit lower and wonder if this was the view fishes had
when they got curious enough to dare the skin of water.
I remember telling my uncle that I knew what dead fishes saw;
Looking at an upside-down lake with the sun floating down –
One slow orange wedge at a time, till a burning tangerine
and careless upside-down men missing shots
because they were preoccupied; But I never told him,
that I remembered him, once, almost shooting at Miss Pam.
Uncle Stephen used to tell me, that I was the one
who turned him to God – I never believed him.
The Second Kiss
– The first was an accident;
a dare at playtime…
A forgotten break – forgotten
school & time. The second
happened in the middle
of a nightmare; I walked
the church alone
– Sunday; some time
after mass… I was talking
and my Sunday-School mate
surprised me; cut me
off mid-sentence –
with his lips – vanilla…
leftover from the ice cream
The church had
– distributed; in a forgotten nook
of a forgotten book filled
with my amnesia notes; I remembered
and still do… The slant
of sun; the hypotenuse
of the afternoon; the F-sharp
a myna sang; the air spicy
with carnation; my heart
– in fermata; the stillness
of our lips; the counterpoint
of blood and winds; only my ears
could hear, and then, he –
moved back; a hesitant smile
crumbling, till my smile
soothed his edges with
my eye-kisses; silent
– we knew, we knew; this dream
would remain a nightmare
in the nook of a church;
we walked back. We didn’t
hold hands; (we did that
later) and walked back;
monsters into a hall
full of saints –
Fish — XV
Making Clementine Preserves with my Mother
It helps me relax!
My insomniac mother would say
as she’d wave a caramel-stained spoon.
Those nights I’d wake up for water and find her
in the kitchen with a jar of honey and Jane Austen.
Some nights she’d make clementine preserves
from the tiny oranges we grew in our farm.
Some sleepless nights,
I’d partake in my heritage –
her night vigil
I once asked her why she had trouble sleeping.
It would be many years before she’d give me an answer;
One night redolent with moon, and the kitchen
effused oranges, she suddenly said, Jesus,
looking at me dreamily over an army
of sterilized jars, should never have
cursed that fig tree.
Image credits: Jim Hautman. Duck hunting is big in the United States of course. But it seems there is also a thriving subculture of “duck art”. A major driving force is the Federal Duck Stamp Competition run by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Based on the winning painting, they bring out an annual duck stamp, and the money raised goes, presumably, to fish and wildlife.
Hailing from state of Kerala, Feby Joseph describes himself as a spiritual vagabond, currently working as a Piano teacher in Mumbai. Feby is the winner of Reuel International Prize for Poetry, 2020. Some of his works have appeared on Café Dissensus, Foreign Literary Journal, Zoetic Press and The Bangalore Review.