Madhur Anand’s Parasitic Oscillations
by Shani Mootoo


Parasitic Oscillations
by Madhur Anand
McClelland & Stewart,
96 pages.

As I read Madhur Anand’s new book of poetry, Parasitic Oscillations, a couple memorable lines of text from her memoir, This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart, came to mind: A cusp is mathematically defined as a point at which two branches of a curve meet such that the tangents of each branch are equal. Like Husband and Wife. Like Work and Life. Like Art and Science.

This begs the extrapolation: Like Poetry and Science. Parasitic Oscillations is a cusp, a point where two branches, poetry and science, meet.

If a reader of Parasitic Oscillations tilts her head slightly, particularly if that reader is not herself a scientist, the language of scientific query, as Anand has set it down, can sound, all by itself, like poetry. But the observations and scientific renditions of ornithology, regarding egg and nest collections of birds in India, for instance, go well beyond, “sounds like.”

Part Six of the book is titled “Songs.” In 1889, ornithologist and political reformer Allan Octavian Hume, a member of the Imperial Civil Service in British India, anthologized verbatim accounts of how nest and egg specimens were collected (a euphemism, really) in a volume titled “The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds.” The specimens are housed at the Natural History Museum in Tring, UK. The writings in Anand’s book are accompanied by photographs of the tagged specimens, and each image contains a QR code that the reader captures to access a sampling of that particular bird’s song.

The ornithologists’ words, the photographs, and the QR codes were one branch of the tangent of Anand’s cusp. She did not lay out on a platter for us—in words—the second branch that might have been called poetry. What happened was that that second branch grew loud and clear inside of me as I was presented images of the prone tagged birds’ bodies and their voices, and read the ornithologists’ words. The poet did not herself interpret any of this, but left it to my humanity to respond, and out of that grew a parallel poetry in me, albeit a silent one. It did not take long to make the leap from the violence of, and in, the collections and collecting methods, to the violences of imperialism and colonialism as they pertain to India but which, as a person coming from a colonized place and now living in one, I too know.

Song 5: Mr. Phillipps, quoted by Dr. Jerdon, says that this bird “generally builds on banyan trees.” This is clearly a mistake. I have known of the taking, or myself taken, altogether of fifty nests in the North-Western Provinces, whence Mr. Phillipps was writing, and never yet heard of or saw a nest of this species in a banyan. A O Hume.

Parasitic Oscillations sets off little bombs in the brain of the reader, as she (the reader) makes associations that the poet might have made using similes, like and as. The book is short on these similes, long on observations, equations, facts, announcements, that pile one on top of the other so that the bent of a particular world opens, or unravels, in the mind of the reader. In this burgeoning, this unspooling, poetry is made alongside colonialism’s euphemisms. Again, from “Songs”:

Song 6: Although I have never seen the nest myself, still having had both eggs and young brough to me on several occasions, I can speak from very reliable experience. At Mahableshwur, where the bird is uncommon, I have often caught the little chicks in the hot weather, and coolies that I have employed as beaters used constantly to find eggs when I was out shooting. Colonel Butler.

If, as many respected poets agree, what is left out in poetry is in fact very much part of the import of a poem—or, as Anand herself says, “It is not always necessary to think words”—then I would say Parasitic Oscillations subtly draws the reader into making poetry with Anand, a poetry then that happens in the heart and in the conscience. She gives us other gifts, like this line that goes straight through our hearts: “I massage mother’s feet so she can say when it hurts.” In another poem, “Rising Variance as an Early Warning,” Anand says, “The birds are gone, but I’m still listening.” She affords us the opportunity of listening and of hearing, but she does not spoon-feed us. She makes poets of us as we interpret and react at the intersection always of delight and rage.

—From CNQ 112 (Fall 2022/Winter 2023).

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