Sparrows and Dust, Poems by Zilka Joseph – The Ridgeway Press
Is this the bird way? Where is home? What is the fate of wanderers? Have we all been “elsewhere”? Will truths be revealed to us in the end? In this finely tuned chapbook, the poet uses free verse and form to sing her stories, her history, her geography, her experience as an immigrant who finds rest after loss and upheaval with imagination and passion. With deft use of imagery, language and the senses, she travels and shape-shifts. She weaves in science, mysticism, imagination and myth. We fly from India to Michigan and back, from this world to other in-between states where memory, death, loss, the present, the search for home and the self all sing through several voices, and become a miniature symphony. As Attar tells us through his bird characters in his allegorical rendering of Sufism— “the way is long” so we must persevere to find the truth. We are but “water mixed with dust”. The bird-soul can only rest briefly, then it must move on.
Zilka Joseph is an educator, editor and a widely published poet. Her chapbooks, Lands I Live In and What Dread, were nominated for a PEN America and a Pushcart award respectively. Her book Sharp Blue Search of Flame (WSUP) and was a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Book Award. http://www.zilkajoseph.com
The poems in Zilka Joseph’s Sparrows and Dust are separate skies—each a wrought song woven with a world of birds: mynah, grackle, swan, sparrow, hoopoe, heron, kingfisher, and dozens of others. From Mumbai and Kolkata in her native India to the yard outside her house in Michigan, this bird-crossed world is made smaller and more beautiful, as Joseph watches the skies and the breadth of her blue heart for the migration of the spirits of her parents and other ancestors. “Leave me a feather to dream on, a map to follow…” one poem sings. As I read and listened to these soaring, gorgeous poems, I felt the dust shake loose; I found myself more open, more buoyant, and more alive.”
—Robert Fanning, author of Severance, Our Sudden Museum, American Prophet and The Seed Thieves
Song and flight, which all poets aspire to achieve, are evident here, there, and everywhere, in this collection of Zilka Joseph’s poems. Her language sings. Between bird-beat and heart-beat, it’s an instrument exquisitely attuned to her love of depths and flitting surfaces. In poem after poem, we return with Zilka to who we are—a gift, a mystery, a wound seeking salve, light-bearers, dipping and swerving through passages of open air, sky and soul, in and out of memory and loss, anxiety and joy, arrival and parting, to settle and nest in the now.
—Ralph Nazareth is the author of Ferrying Secrets; Between Us the Long Road; & Dropping Death. He is the Managing Editor of Yuganta Press and the President of GraceWorks, Inc., an international nonprofit.
When I look up from these poems, I agree with Zilka Joseph that “I have been somewhere else,” perhaps in the mind of a bird. In these remarkable pieces, she explores the dust baths of sparrows–indeed, the behavior of many “life-birds”– as symbols for existence and wonder. Her words wing through family ancestry, migration, and the journey to a place called Michigan where the metaphors shift—hawks overhead, loss and death, but the dust still may, and finally does, shimmer. These are poems of memory and insight the color of saris and feathers, of meaning that rises from origins and resilience and high-flying beauty.
—Anne-Marie Oomen is author of Uncoded Woman, a tale in poems, and Love, Sex and 4-H, winner of the Next Generation Award for Memoir, among others. She teaches at Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College.
Zilka Josheph Poems published in Third Wednesday:
The Geese Who Came to Nest—Winter 2021
Once Upon a Snow Bunting