In Our Beautiful Bones (Paperback)
Poetry. Asian & Asian American Studies. IN OUR BEUTIFUL BONES traces various stages in the poet's journey as an immigrant from India who makes a new life in the US, and her encounters with racism and otherness. In it she explores her Bene Israel roots and ancestors, her life in Kolkata, the influences of British rule and a missionary education, her growing knowledge of what racism and marginalization means, how Indians and Indian culture is perceived and represented. While delving unflinchingly into the violence and global impact of colonialism, the weaponization of the English Language, the evils of tyranny and White Supremacy, and the struggles of oppressed peoples everywhere, she creates powerful collages from mythology, folklore, fairy tales, Scripture, world history and culture, literature, music, food, and current events. Traditional and experimental forms, sensory riches, wit and word play, and an unwavering and clear voice make this book a compelling read. These poems expose prejudice on an international as well as a personal level, and lead the reader to face harsh truths--insults, insensitivity, injustice, ignorance, discrimination, subtle and deliberate aggressions that immigrants, people of color, and the oppressed face daily, and wrestles with her own complex emotions, the current threats to Democracy both in the US--her adopted home, and her native India, her love for both countries. IN OUR BEAUTIFUL BONES is a multi-layered, sharply ironic and sometimes pathos-filled critique of the world, and at the same time it is visionary and a triumph of the human spirit.
In this rich collection of poems, Zilka Joseph takes us on a voyage from her birthplace in India to her immigration to and life in the United States. Even as the airplane from India prepares to land, she thinks “of Dante’s Purgatorio—/ the tiered stages, the tortured souls,” foreshadowing the coiling incidents of tokenism and racism, both virulent and “casual,” she will encounter in this new land, where “Garam masala is a buzzword,” and “Turmeric capsules are a rage.” Her poems remember their way back through India’s colonial history and the losses of culture, religion, and language which throb into her present tense. Joseph makes use of a number of approaches to form in this collection, ending with a collage of mythic, literary, musical, and historical influences which bring her worlds together into a vision of “dancing in the sun / in our own shining skin / in our beautiful bones.” These are brave and beautiful poems.
Diane Seuss, author of "frank: sonnets, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl", and "Four-Legged Girl"
Following the literary tradition of Carolyn Forché and Claudia Rankine, poet Zilka Joseph spins the jarring, interpersonal experience of racism and colonialism into consciousness-exploding verse. In the process, the reader becomes the witness: a terrified, white child gawking at your brown face; a neighbor filing a complaint about the smell of your food cooking; the moment at a dinner party when you become the explainer for your people; encountering ignorance so blatant it leaves you speechless. You can’t pore over In Our Beautiful Bones and not be transformed by the powerful, emotional landscape of this collection.
Desiree Cooper, Pulitzer-nominated journalist, and awardwinning author of Know the Mother
In Our Beautiful Bones reckons with the violence of white supremacy and colonialism. In these poems, Zilka Joseph surveys the ecological, physical, emotional, and psychological traumas of that violence, with a central focus on the agonies of constant interpellation by whiteness’s gaze. “O even in Hades salvation is not free,” Joseph writes, and we, Joseph makes clear, are in Hades. What should we do? Do we sing songs of praise, even for that which hurts us? Do we smile, as we’ve been taught? What do we hold onto with our bruised-knuckle hands, especially when we’re held apart from each other by prejudice, by distance, by disease? These are the questions In Our Beautiful Bones inhabits and wrestles with, all the while hoping to make it through to some place where it would make sense to say “when I say love I mean you / when I say home I mean you.”
Sumita Chakraborty, author of Arrow and Grave Dangers: Poetics and the Ethics of Death in the Anthropocene (forthcoming)
A standout poetry collection that fearlessly examines one immigrant’s experience.
Kirkus Reviews - October 1,2021
In Our Beautiful Bones is an easy read and doesn’t require a background in poetry. Joseph’s writing is straightforward and captivating as are the stories she tells of immigration, identity, and her hope for more compassion in the world.
Susan Blumberg-Kason - Asian Review of Books - October 4, 2021