Atlas of Lost Places, by Yamini Pathak
Review by John W. Bing
Yamini Pathak’s first chapbook, Atlas of Lost Places (Milk and Cake Books, 2020) explores memories of a childhood in India and adulthood in the US, raising American children. She reminisces, weaves in myth and narrative, and blends theses elements into a lovely, lyrical whole. Beginning with the title, this is a series of poems that has echoes of many different kinds of lost places, lost but remembered maps.
From the opening poem, “Ahimsa,” representing the kinship of all things (from Sanskrit, meaning the absence of injury), come brilliant images:
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxCanyons are hewn
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxby a licking stream
a tongue worrying stone after stone
like loosened teeth
Pathak’s “Ghazal for the Children Born Far from Home” describes one of the directions of her Atlas: “I’ve severed you from old ways, this is my sorrow,” as the atlas points to a lost home.
In “Elegy for the Way Home,” Pathak continues her exploration of lost places:
Where shall you go my sons? How will you ask for
answers. . .
lined on your palms and your
genomes, meaning you
were birthed from a language where parsaun, the day
after tomorrow wheels around to point at
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe day before yesterday
There is humor in this chapbook as well. “In My Own Skin,” for example, fantasizes the strength of one’s own culture as a weapon to overcome office enemies:
I wear my Goddess skin to work
at the Monday morning meeting, I ride in
on a muscled tiger. . . .
When Petunia from Credit Policy goes into Striking Cobra
pose and venoms her questions at me with a hiss, flames
from my forehead laser forth and raze
her to the ground. She makes a soft pile of ash.
In the last poem in this chapbook, “The Long Goodbye,” Pathak’s strength of incorporating the quotidian, daily events and objects, strews the poem with little jewels:
uncurl the leathered cheek
xxxxof an over-ripe pomegranate, spill rubies into our laps
Pathak is adept in various poetic forms: Triolet, Ghazal, prose poems, and free verse for examples. But the reader tends not to notice her technical competence because it is almost always at the service of bringing the reader to her side, to see her perspective, to share her vision and her losses.
While much of the poetry in this enchanted chapbook memorializes a lost homeland, it will speak to all of us who have managed the art of losing, whether it be a lover, a parent, a child, our youth, our mother country, or an ideal. Being human means both to gain and to lose. To us all, Pathak speaks words of deep understanding. In sharing with us her lost places, she may help us with ours.
Yamini Pathak is a former software engineer turned poet and freelance writer. She was born and raised in India and now lives in New Jersey. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in Waxwing, Anomaly, The Kenyon Review blog, Jaggery, and elsewhere. A Dodge Foundation Poet in the Schools, she is poetry editor for Inch (Bull City Press) and an MFA candidate at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Yamini is an alumnus of VONA/Voices (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation), and Community of Writers.
John Bing has spent some of his lifetime building metaphorical bridges, but most of his time amazed at and appreciating different cultures and peoples, from a number of countries in Africa and Europe and Latin America to his years—years ago—in Afghanistan as a Peace Corps Volunteer. From these wanderings, and now from his perch in the American southwest, he has come to love both the peoples he has met and the lands that they inhabit. Just as each person and each group have their own characteristics and belief systems, so every place has its particular geography and set of living things. John Bing’s Time Signatures is forthcoming from Kelsay Press.
Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.