Humanity as historical reality is an antyphysis taking control of the surrounding on its own behalf. One such offering of control is patriarchy and the conscience of possession and expansion of authority by arrogation.
Megan Fernandes’s debut collection of poems, The Kingdom and After is a an enquiry into such historical reality, of development and debris, with particular critique of colonization as widely noted in the 20th century and continuing. Readers may notice a certain kind of inflection, a turn in modality, and synesthesia in Fernandes’s craftsmanship while content wise, the poems are surely thought provoking as they render a patchwork of time, space, histories, psychology, communities and intimacy- often times, not limited to lovers but absolute strangers; say, a co-passenger insisting you to “see some photos?… but dead men, / misshapen// in an uncanny grace, their haggard postures lolling in the mix of /grass and dust.” from “The Flight to Sacramento”
The book does offer contradictions in feminist understanding or point of view, therefore a good dig for scholars and theorists. In her poem ‘Afrikander’; where the father points out to his daughter, one of the many feminine flaws as discussed in the ‘Second Sex’ by Beauvoir;
my father said, “is that you think like a man,
but have all the desires of a woman.”
which is why, the daughter arrives at an agreement although uncomfortably-
I know he did not mean to mean weak,
but it is what he meant.
The poem, ‘Afrikander’ has a certain audacity and temperament to outlive the challenges of ruins by taking a wife and begetting four children. He deploys his masculinity to convert ravages into living and sustain the cost of upbringing a family but family is the most absolute kind of kingdom, the intensity is only reduced by peripheral emotions and stakeholders. This is how the poem reduces the epic strength of the man to rubbles with the daughter in an implicit disquiet.
So in The Kingdom and After, what is the ‘after’ relating to?” To that poet replies, “The ‘after’ is ‘bursting with queens, daughters, female usurpers of thrones.’ The ‘after’ also wants to explore the remains of that era which is more fragmented, slippery, and nuanced… The “after” is trying to understand the death of a friend who was brutally raped and murdered. The “after” is talking to a war veteran coming back from Afghanistan. The “after” is trying to understand the stereotyping of the hijra in India, looks at the aftermath of certain violent patriarchal practices”. Indeed each poem has an aftermath; it does not close after the tongue has pulled the curtains.
smells like your teeth,
stained with cheap sugar.
from “The Kingdom and After”
The hijras in India have guru-chella relationship which would mean members of the hijra community must adhere to the instructions of the head. It is by the order of this guru, members must beg to remain a part of the community which promises safeguard against malicious interference of the society. This awareness dates back to 1993 when All-India-Radio aired poetry and literature by eleven transgender intellectuals, also discussing how they not only resisted to social criticism of their orientation but also pursued their gurus and parents to assert their rightful claims. ‘Queens’ in The Kingdom and After is a critical gateway to this obscure paradigm of life. Although the poem will read like a critique, but a critique of the ‘hijras’, not the one among them who fought against norms of begging and paid bills from his own sweat.
In “Quentin Compson at the Natural History Museum, Harvard University,” Fernandes renders the speaker an original, sharp and uncompromising voice-
Caddy, surrounded by glass.
Caddy, surrounded by glass, a little tree inside her.
Caddy, surrounded by glass, smells like trees.
Couldn’t you die here, Caddy?
In all this glass?
The Kingdom and After has elements of violence, peace, love, denial but no mortifying affectation that will cease to charm you. One thing which is certainly beautiful about the poet is how she gives a shine of nacre in the underbelly of her poems that they are often so elegant and wanting at the same time.
you will have a wife, and
I will have a daughter and
we won’t meet like this again.
so pain and flesh collapsed
into notes and later,
A simple sentence like, “we won’t meet like this again” or “in half-light, / I think about it” can do so much to the conscience. The Kingdom and After is synaptic, eloquent and persuasive. If you can allow a one on one with this eclectic body of work, take it from me, you’ll certainly want the poems to sit by you for long. Also, do not miss Corinne’s take on physics, aging and bodies of water.