When he was a child, poet Chandra Gurung left his native Nepal to attend school in northern India. His father was a soldier in the Indian army, and the boy’s school was near where his father was stationed. While it was an opportunity for his education, it was also a separation from his village and his family.
Those themes of opportunity and separation resonate through the 47 poems of My Father’s Face, written originally in Nepali and translated into English by Mahesh Paudyal. The poems reflect the seeming contradictions of hope and regret, love and loss, patriotism and resistance, and a longing for home, yet an almost welcomed separation from it.
Even poems that appear straightforward, like a love poem, contain this sense of opposites and contradictions.
The moon mounts,
Atop the shoulders of the trees
Over each of the leaves
Over each of the sylvan boughs
It can be spotted everywhere—
At the doorsteps of every home
At every nook, every corner
On the windows
Along the streets
And at times
Vanishes from every eye
You show up in the firmament of my heart
And become a lovely, radiant moon.
“Lovely Moon” is a love poem, but it could be describing feelings for a loved one or the love of one’s country. The moon is a metaphor, often associated with love in poetry (and especially classical poetry), but it is a metaphor that can be self-contradictory. The moon waxes and wanes; it lasts for a night and then disappears as the sun takes its place. Its fullness lasts for only a short time, eventually waning into nothingness — until it reappears. The poem itself notes how it can both appear everywhere and at times vanish “from every eye.”
Several of the poems are about Gurung’s native Nepal. The country experienced a devastating earthquake in 2015, and he describes it in “Earthquakes and Flowers.” Nepal also experienced a decade-long revolution; in “Ill Omen and several other poems,” the poet looks at what the common people saw – not a political change but a riot, as poet Pemp Tamang points out in the foreword. Several of the poems in the collection are “political” poems, addressing what has happened in Nepal and what it means for both people’s daily experience as well as one’s understanding of “my country.” He expresses hope, and he expresses struggle.
Born in a small village in the Gorkha region of Nepal (famed for the Gurkha soldiers), Gurung has spent a large part of his life outside Nepal. A poet and writer, he also translates Arabic, Indian, and English poets’ work to Nepali. His first poetry collection was published in 2007; My Father’s Face was published in late 2020. Gurung lives in Persian Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain.
The poems of My Father’s Face may reflect a Nepali heritage, but they present the contradictions of life familiar to all cultures and societies. They also describe the difficulty of separation from one’s home, a separation that allows both yearning and a clear-eyed understanding.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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