Rain drips on the
tin roof, frogs
& crickets chant.
The passing days
turn to years.
Lying awake in the
dark, I know the
taste of ash.
The images are simple, rendered with honesty and clarity. Darkness and light. Sound and silence. Rituals of nature and moments in time.
American poet Kim Dorman was drawn to India as a child, and made his first visit to the country in 1976. He made several more journeys over the years until, after a long absence, he and his wife returned in 2019 to live in the southern state of Kerala. Drawing inspiration from classical Japanese literature, especially Matsuo Bashō’s travel diaries, he focuses his attention on the small details and everyday routines and rhythms of life—his own and his neighbours—in this tropical environment. Kerala Journal is a collections of his poetic observations, recorded between March 2019 and January 2021.
A farmer clears his field with a sickle.
Fodder for cows.
On the road, a young family goes past
on a scooter.
Man, woman, child.
Certain images—night skies, dust on the road, rats in the attic, cawing crows—appear and reappear regularly, highlighting the rhythms that run through the days but as the poet, who admits to having three versions of Heraclitus among his books, knows well, one never steps in the same river twice. Time flows on.
Solitary path, dust.
Cockcrow sounds far:
All is lost, gained.
Sunrise on the river.
Yet, as Covid strikes, the world beyond the local community enters the immediate environment as newspapers bring news of migrant workers and their families slowly making their way to distant homes, while elsewhere a rhino ambles down an empty road meeting no one. Time during lockdown takes on a different shape for different people based on circumstance just as the reality of a pandemic heightens an awareness of mortality. I do notice that the poet seems ever more conscious of his age as this collection nears its close.
I was already in my late fifties when I first travelled to India and I had the great opportunity to visit a friend in Kerala twice in 2019. I am impressed with the Dormans’ decision to return there later in life. But I understand the perspective only age can bring. To fully appreciate a place takes patience and time and a quiet introspection. These poems observe without judgment. They inspire us to isolate and pay attention to the smallest details in our lives. And, sometimes, even the unexpected humour:
hands me a bottle
Kerala Journal by Kim Dorman is published by Xylem Books, an imprint of Corbel Stone Press.