This past month I began reading Bhanu Kapil’s, How To Wash a Heart and could not stop crying. I tend to be a slow reader, so I read a few poems every night, and sometimes the poems I read in one night I re-read again and again. As a huge fan of Kapil’s work, I enjoy processing what Kapil’s mind offers [me] the reader.
This book of poetry was born out of a photo in a news article Bhanu Kapil had seen – a white couple in Berkeley, CA hosting an immigrant guest. In How to Wash a Heart, Kapil writes about a relationship between a host and a guest. What is expressed by the host to the guest is not always what is true, it’s an act, a performance of hospitality, which is what I believe Kapil reveals through this host/guest relationship.
While I have been reading this book, I’ve been brought to some serious tears with one poem in particular. Although, my interpretation of this poem is not at all close to the idea that inspired this book. It came from thinking about my relationship with my parents growing up. This host/guest relationship in the book makes so much sense to me when I think about my childhood and how I existed in a space that was meant to be mine…but at the same time was not. Now that I think of it, was a relationship where power affected the dynamics in the house, power was dependent on how comfortable the way one might feel when moving/existing around in space.
Here are a few lines from that poem,
It’s exhausting to be a guest
In somebody else’s house
Even though the host invites
The guest to say
Whatever it is they want to say,
The guest knows that host logic
And I will cut off the energy
To your life.
I grew up in an immigrant household, that constantly reminded me that the space I existed in was only mine because my father allowed it. At any moment, it could be taken away. If I think about my father’s logic, this host logic, threatening to take away my basic needs – it seemed to come from a place of fear. Fear of what? I’m not so sure. It could be the fear a father has of his children growing up too fast, fear of abandonment, fear of not being able to live through your children the way you want to, fear and shame of not fulfilling this because of the risk that was taken to come to a new country…? Either way, this violent power dynamic forced onto me as a young person made it hard to feel free to even laugh or to cry or exist in a space devoid of any deep emotion.
I’m not sure if this was Kapil’s intention for readers – to look back on their trauma – but it brought me back to that power dynamic. I continue to stay inspired by Bhanu Kapil’s work and will have new things to write about after reading this collection of poems.