In an early poem (2008), The Idiot Goes to Hell, Mona Zote works a few delicate surprises that complicate the Christian meaning of the Cross on the eve of a suicidal death. This death meticulously carried out on the Holy Cross does not make the dead a Christ figure. More disconcertingly, the mother praises her ‘idiotic’ son for the perfect execution of a deed once at least in his entire life of nonsense. The orthodox belief that one committing suicide “goes to Hell” does not however affect his loving mother either; on the contrary, this short lyric reveals a Christian mother’s poised observation in face of her son’s death. She does not claim to be a Mary figure either. A Christian selecting to hang himself from the Cross in the burial ground is a radical critique in itself. Our traditional Christian perspectives seem meaningless to both in a manner almost suggestive of Samuel Beckett’s absurd tramps. Several questions crop up: Is she senile, or too tired of an idiot? How could a mother go cool over her son’s death? Why does the idiot choose the graveyard with “a precise cross” to hang himself? How to know the idiot’s inner psyche to die on the cross? No answers are likely. But the poem subtly enforces this that any deed perfectly done is its own sufficient meaning, which requires no religion to certify or condemn. Therefore, a life of action is superior to that of inaction. Mona’s radical thinking quite early in her creative career does speak here.
Her Home Going (2008) is relatively a less accessible but excellent love poem, marked by an intertwining of intellectual and sensual images; sensually provocative phrases are scattered around such as “folding the accordion of my selves”, “menstrual sun”, “lightning sew the purses of the sky”, “taking tea with a minotaur.” The images of Knossos (Crete/ Greek) and Ma’rib (Yemen/Sheba), pointing at prehistoric times, would suggest love issuing out of the unknown sources and making a landfall just at the shore of life. It seems to be a diagnosis of love experience involving uncommon figures of a menstrual sun (uncontrollable youth) and a blindfolded (under control) girl. In this tightly woven artifact of modern images, the image of the male lover who resembles a menstrual sun of the yesteryears is suggestively a minotaur and who enjoys breaking the “harp” across his knees, ie. breaking the female partner down in love.
The poem suggests that love’s intimations may build up its vertigo, but soon it is realized that the human body is a “paper boat,” too frail to contain the whirl of love. Thus, the love’s accordion (singing of intimations) folds up at the “landfall” (touching the reality –shore of life) rather than singing its full blast like a storm. The poem unfolds that in the process of love act, the person is ‘seen’, known, and not from his ‘reputed wisdom’ as of the Minotaur’s austere world (part-animal and part- human). With this knowledge gained, it is time for the woman to go home; ‘home going’ is a growing maturity of life with insightful, perhaps calming, knowledge. This poem, like a locked box of sweet surprises, opens up a feminist face of the woman persona being cynically, yet silently, watchful of the masculinist control of the other gender even in matters of love as it in knowledge. The landfall is indeed of the woman’s fall into reality as well as man’s fall off the age-old self-estimation.
These two poems, to my mind, lack the adequately signifying markers by which they would claim the status of ‘Mizo poetry’ in English. The first poem may be claimed by any Christian the world over to have expressed his ‘idiotic’ passion, if at all; whereas the second one will be readily claimed by the Greek to be his/her. Reflexively, if the poems are situated in the Mizo contexts, one will be surprised at the suppressed meanings getting suddenly resonant and accord appreciation.
Well, one cannot deny the universal appeal of the either poem in the process of articulating love exceptionally or dying exceptionally. Mona’s poetry always expresses a passionate pursuit, which is substantiated by her other poems. To me, a poem is a cultural artifact, without ever denying its potential of universality. In love poetry, usually poets work out images that are culture-free, as Mona’s poem here appears. But to be called a Mizo poem, Home Going will have to evolve through images and symbols that are ethnically or experientially Mizo. As I have come across a slowly burgeoning tuft of poetry in English written by Mizo men and women, I find no self-convinced confidence in using Mizo symbols or places. This scenario points up two things: one, the Mizo poet in English does not want to identify with the land or social order where he/she belongs for special reasons; secondly, the poet may target an intelligent readership outside her immediate environment. But in both cases, the fact lies that the immediate surrounding has impacted on the creative spirit, though to an indirection. Therefore, our tie with our ethnic roots does not die, though it may seem dry on the surface. Thus, I feel, the poet’s exercise may better unfold the self- alienation, self-exile or the social neglect by means of culture’s images. This is nevertheless to acknowledge that other poems of Mona Zote are characteristically and subversively Mizo poems.
Prof. S.D. Baral is presently the Head of the Department of English, Mizoram University. We appreciate his interest and scholarly study and assessment of the writings on this blog, especially in the two mentioned in the article.