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When I Reach For Your Pulse by Rushi Vyas

Rushi Vyas' stunning debut poetry collection 'When I Reach for Your Pulse' is an emotionally raw journey through grief, grappling with the suicide of the poet's father. Right from the first poem, Vyas pulls no punches, opening with the lines "I waited all my life for my father / to die and when he finally did I heard / the whip of voices caged within / his skull." The image of the father's burned "voiceless body" sets the tone for this deeply personal collection that explores silence, loss, and the complex shadows cast by trauma.

While grieving the father's death is at the core, Vyas weaves this intimate pain into a broader tapestry, touching on the lingering impacts of colonialism, racism, and other systemic injustices. As an Indian American, Vyas draws from both sides of their cultural identity, referencing childhood memories in Ohio and ancestral roots in India. The poems traverse geography, swinging from the American Midwest to northern India to Aotearoa New Zealand, where Vyas currently resides.

This is not a collection that provides easy answers or attempts to wrap up trauma in a neat narrative. Instead, Vyas leans into the jagged edges and unknowability of grief. The poems enact the struggle to articulate something that ultimately evades language - an effort echoed in the gaps and silences Vyas incorporates into the text. While other poets might quiet down when faced with such ineffable subjects, Vyas boldly ploughs ahead, unrelentingly wrestling with the shadows.

The collection takes risks not every poet would dare. Vyas writes haunting persona poems from the perspective of the father in the form of "suicide notes." While undoubtedly difficult to compose, these poems add heartbreaking layers of nuance and humanity to this man. We get a kaleidoscopic view of someone capable of both nurturing and harming his family.

Beyond the personal story, Vyas digs into the intergenerational burdens passed down by colonial rule, systemic racism, and other power structures. There is a palpable sense of seeking pathways to heal from these inherited traumas. The poems grapple with essential questions - which parts of our histories should we release in order to move forward and which do we need to honour in order to remain grounded?

While tackling heavy themes, 'When I Reach for Your Pulse' ultimately affirms endurance in the face of loss. Vyas returns to resonant symbols like "the stream [that] survives its source," reminding us that even as specific voices go silent, the current continues flowing. Though we cannot neatly resolve certain sorrows, life persists.

Vyas' talent is undeniable. Their lyrical chops combined with formal innovation make for a stunning collection. The poems cascade down the page in rhythmic lines, accented with vivid imagery. Vyas deftly alternates between crisp narrative and rhapsodic abstraction. Throughout it all, their voice remains intimate and accessible, drawing readers into this journey through darkness toward catharsis. This is poetry as ritual and 'When I Reach for Your Pulse' feels like a ceremony commemorating what has passed as well as what lies ahead. Vyas proves themself a poet to watch.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Otago University Press


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