Athena Kashyap, ‘Crossing Black Waters’Â (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2012)
Reviewed by Maida SalkanoviÄ‡
Athena Kashyapâ€™s debut poetry collection, â€˜Crossing Black Watersâ€™, is a poetic testimony to the reality of immigration in different conditions and times in human history. Drawing on her own experience of moving from India to the U.S., Kashyap gives a voice to other immigrants: a Peruvian college student caught between two worlds, an illegal Mexican immigrant crossing the barbed wire border, members of her own family who moved during the partition of India.
Talking about her familyâ€™s forced relocation, Kashyap exhibits a great deal of understanding and empathy for their experiences. Through her poetic journey, she explores concepts such as identity, roots, and belonging. In the collectionâ€™s title poem, she uses the metaphor of floating to describe the feeling of being disconnected from oneâ€™s roots. She further develops the roots allegory by describing an imaginary visit from her great-grandfather who is â€œwaving dead roots in my faceâ€, representing the detachment from oneâ€™s origins and at the same time showing the impossibility of breaking connections between a person and her kin.
The symbolism of â€œcrossing black watersâ€ lies in the old belief that crossing black waters, the oceans, leads to losing oneâ€™s identity and becoming an outcast in India. Kashyap writes that â€œonce she stepped outside, her skin/dissolvedâ€, suggesting that a move away from oneâ€™s own country can be a kind of death: one needs to rebuild a new identity if one is to survive in new circumstances. She portrays the desolation and loss of identity which may come as a result of being detached from oneâ€™s roots, at the same time depicting our need to form meaningful and safe connections.
â€˜Crossing Black Watersâ€™ is a personal but simultaneously all-encompassing testimony to migration and the complex processes of incorporating multiple cultures, multiple lives a person has into one experience. Like Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquezâ€™ â€˜100 Years of Solitudeâ€™, â€˜Crossing Black Watersâ€™ is an homage to a family whose history seems to repeat itself, but also in a broader sense, a testimony to todayâ€™s pluralistic, globalist world in which traditional definitive identities, such as nationality and religion, are being challenged and invited to incorporate elements of other cultures in creating a less rigid, more open sense of the self.
Maida SalkanoviÄ‡ is Junior Poetry Editor for the magazine.