Poet’s Sampler: Monica Mody

Coming at you in vatic stereo, a screenplay live from Radio Delhi, Monica Mody’s “Kala Pani” is a work of words almost beyond description, full of rapturous code, ensnaring tendrils, choral voices, double-exposures, wondrous bad synching, and spectral and degrading film. Here the oral storytelling techniques and film-fed mythic motifs of urban India go viral, weird and wired, saturated with media though beset with traditional revolutionary impulses. Six World Travellers, bereft of visas, gather beneath a tree to tell the story of Sameshape and Othershape—lovers, sisters, coconspirators, antagonists, doubles?—while the new Administration looks on, both feeding the informants and censoring their live feed. The resulting contortions, stutters, hallucinations, fight scenes, sex scenes, mise-en-scènes, warblings and appendages, jerk and brim with juissance and glitter with the self-discovery of a true bricoleuse. Gender, genre, national identity, multiple languages, and the body’s “natural” borders are all debased and reworked in this queer, unstable mix, which releases energy as it forms and breaks down and forms again. Welcome to the world of “Kala Pani.” Drink this smoking stuff and live forever.

—Joyelle McSweeney


At the time, of course, I turned them into media sensations. Sameshape & Othershape were unaware of it, but they became ethnic, geographic, and social curiosities for an entire nation. I had just joined a gang of bloggers. We prowled streets and slums, technical handbooks and audience pages, artists’ studios and alternative film clubs, buses and body doubles, city squares and the Commonwealth Games Village, dance shows and the Department of Atomic Energy, environmental groups and the east side of the river, town halls and martyrs’ statues, looking

For signs of urban dystopia. We were rough and restless with cannon and sought relationships that would, historically and comparatively, challenge us. The junkyard was the perfect setting. Ext. Junkyard—Full Moon. Sameshape & Othershape notice the moon. Sameshape tracks how long Othershape stares at the moon.






The tree, a lusty neem, tried very hard not to eavesdrop on the conversation but it had begun to ferment. Its risk period had ended and it was not going to stand upright anymore. Its leaves, laments, letters, festoons, flags, fingerprints, H1N1 viruses, needles, medicaments, and hair, almost shed. Safety latch, turned on. Though unmarried, the tree took great pride in its appearance. It was trying to safely evolve into another condition. Waiting

Period long. Kind of like a buzzard’s head. Only room for quite alone. A topknot, released in the middle of nowhere. Drunk on feathers & wind. Exhilarated! My tree was so soft it curled around the edges almost collapsing it was a trailing coughing spitting collapsing curling thing. The spittoon brimmed with tree hair & something

That ties us together. Eyes of a camera appeared everywhere. The tree did its best to be a tree fit for a socket or a natural crevice. Somewhere, a topiary for evenly colored birds. Meanwhile, the tree had grown up old listening to peoples’ tales of the young. This tree, this song, I’d first heard her sing. The tree squirmed her ear toward them.

(radio voice)

We have gathered today to celebrate trees with star billing. These trees represent five millennia of humankind’s collective aspirations, and it is but appropriate that we gift them to the museum of the new world. We will lovingly track and displace them and lovingly collect or moisten them. We will love the new world. It is due to the generosity of friends and benefactors that the new government could organize the bureaucracy, the complicity, the compromises, the ideological cooption, the cooperation, the rapacity, and the ethical rationalization necessary for this farsighted program, and to them we will confer appropriate rewards. Our desire is to keep everyone in the new world happy.


The curators returned with summary catalogues describing 29 or 92 million bittersweet trees. Each catalogue provided not only a compact illustrated listing of the trees, but also brief comments by curators that explained how each tree was proposed to be collected or moistened. These catalogues were ceremonially handed over to the Society for Just Plunder, which launched systematic invasions in which bittersweet trees were hacked, stripped, and stifled. A few trees of monumental significance made it to the back of trucks, gagged and trussed, after the Department of Diplomacy intervened. The museum of the new government waited for the trucks, waist-deep in gelatinous expectation: its own secretions.



Tree of numinous detail. The last tree in the war. Careworn and chrysanthemum motifs. Lush green panels. Loose-tipped design. In the grand tradition of great trees, this tree hosted a bird’s nest, a snake, and a moon. On the tree there also lived a delicate and rarefied vampire spirit, an expressive ant, and a retired hunter. They ate the elaborate fruit and lived, pretty much as other beings do.


Before long, they became aware of an unexpected kineme. The residents of the tree had not anticipated the possibility of such a kineme. A distance away, dust

Snarled at the feet of millions of squirrel-shaped blubs. Closer and closer, the blubs squeezed themselves into a phalanx of pulped fury. Gliggering eyes; there was not even negative space left.


The consensus of opinion was that the wrist would grow back again. Cynics were growing wary of this whole messy situation where over and over again they had to clean up somebody’s skin, somebody’s bones, somebody’s sleeves, somebody’s vomit, somebody’s tears, somebody’s rage, somebody’s blind spots, et cetera. They rolled away into the night, never to be heard from again. But since we cannot abandon our heroine, since we are in charge of her adventures, that moment of escape when she

Seal breaks. Sealed to a kiss, stolen seal from the medicine cabinet and taped to the inside of her razor. Cut /shield/ bitten /shield/ broken /shield/ trichotillomaniac /shield/ dermatillomaniac /scratch/ /shield/ /shield/. She grew salubrious.


Othershape sprawled on the regular sofa, her legs spread out before her, love growing cotton in its ears. Mouth open. Really, now. Is that a ladder you are carrying? Climb in next to me. I can hear you hard. Brush-footed. Left with no dining companions, her thought bubbles settled over every

Thing regular. She wore the lentil bean on her head to sleep. When she woke up, the lentil bean was a dream suspended above her head.

(with great fondness)

Lentil bean, leave me with something that can disappear.

(doffing his hat)


Flattered you asked!

(lanky and ergonomic)


Glad to hear about it.

(walking off)

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About the Author

Monica Mody is a graduate of the creative writing MFA program at Notre Dame and author of Travel & Risk, a chapbook.

Joyelle McSweeney is Associate Professor of English at Notre Dame, founding editor of Action Books and Action, Yes and author of Flet.

Joyelle McSweeney, Slumming


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