Chloe Martinez: “In Delhi”


In Delhi

Green parakeets! They are here, pecking among the crows.

The tanned ex-pats are running laps, dripping with sweat at 7 AM;

old men practice laugh therapy among the trees; middle-aged walkers

try to follow the stern advice of their doctors, they

swing their arms briskly, huffing along the paths, past gorgeous

ruins of mosques, the tombs of former sultans. Their drivers

wait outside the gates, leaning on the cars and smoking.

We are here too, awake jet-lag early and ready to do

everything at once. Later it will be hot and we will

snap at each other, indecisive about lunch, dehydrated,

but that is not now. Now the temperature is perfect! There are

water-lilies! Our grandmothers on the phone

both said go! Love each other! Enjoy! and we do,

we identify a kingfisher, dogs, Americans, and where can we

get a cup of coffee at this hour? We can’t, this is not

when you go out for coffee in Delhi, everything is closed.

But, parakeets! Air conditioning! Love each other! Let us

get fat on poori and paratha, let us photograph everything

and overpay for rickshaws. Let us rest in the afternoon,

naked in a dim room, ceiling fan humming overhead,

bright racket of motorbikes floating in from the street.


From Corner Shrine (Backbone Press 2020). Used with permission of the press. Learn more and purchase a copy of the chapbook here. Listen to Chloe Martinez read her poem here.

Chloe Martinez is a poet and scholar of South Asian religions. Her chapbook, Corner Shrine (Backbone Press 2020), was selected by Geffrey Davis as the winner of the 2019 Backbone Press Chapbook Competition and is available for order here. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Waxwing, Shenandoah, The Common, and elsewhere. Martinez teaches at Claremont McKenna College. See more at www.chloeAVmartinez.com.


Poet’s Note

I’m interested in the ways that travel can disrupt our habits and expectations, and thus let us see ordinary things with fresh eyes. When you can encounter common birds, people exercising, or minor inconveniences with a sense of discovery, I think you have a better-than-usual chance of being open to joy, or pain, or revelation. The list quality of the poem is connected to the feeling that Delhi has for me: another experience, and another, and another! The poem is a love song both to my husband and to a city that I find endlessly fascinating and frustrating, and that I miss, especially in this travel-free year.


Commentary by Amanda Moore

Travel, especially international travel, is a luxury at any time, and in this moment of pandemic, confinement has become the thing I miss most—more than mask-less grocery shopping, eating indoors at restaurants, hearing live music, or attending packed literary events. When I begin to fantasize about hopping on a plane or sailing off to some foreign port, I comb through photos of past trips and make lists of future destinations in my own country and abroad. I am, I find, travel-starved and easily carried away with hopes and plans of trips to come. What luck, then, to discover Chloe Martinez’s new chapbook Corner Shrine, which explores the very nature of such journeys.

“In Delhi,” today’s featured poem, captures the breathless wonder, excitement, fatigue, and confusion often felt during the first few days in a foreign place, and as such is the perfect form of vicarious travel. The title situates us geographically in northern India, and the poem’s opening exclamation, “Green parakeets!” offers delight and surprise. That the speaker happily notices such small creatures indicates a certain kind of attention, one that is highly observant and interested in the most minute details of its surroundings, prepared to be enchanted rather than inconvenienced by what is encountered. This attention expands to take in the whole scene as the speaker describes “ex-pats,” “old men,” and “middle-aged walkers,” though these creatures generate less excitement than the parakeets. It is worth noting here that the speaker is not a solo traveler but is part of a “we” whose other parties are not identified. It is likely a lover or spouse but could even be a communal “we” encompassing a larger group.

With a few key details, the poem’s descriptive mode paints a striking opening setting: morning in a beautiful park with people of privilege engaged in recreation while their “drivers / wait outside the gates, leaning on the cars and smoking.” These environs are apparently familiar to everyone but the speaker; the locals exercise while moving “past gorgeous / ruins of mosques, the tombs of former sultans” without taking note. Instead, they are “dripping with sweat” and swinging “their arms briskly,” exerting themselves while the speaker is a more passive observer. In a paradox familiar to travelers, tourists and locals within the same park have completely different experiences of it. “We are here too,” the speaker is moved to declare, though the very declaration reminds us that the presence of tourists is novel and transitory; as observers, they don’t have an established routine or relationship to the place, and everything they see is new.

Momentarily moving away from these observations and experiences in the park, the poem shifts to the future tense for a few short lines, letting us preview how the speaker and her companion “awake jet-lag early and ready to do / everything at once” and later will “snap at each other.” Travel offers endless opportunities to explore, which the speaker is ready to embrace, wanting to see and do everything. It can also be exhausting—jumping time zones, switching climates, and immersion in unfamiliar environments and customs. “Later it will be hot,” the speaker tells us, and the easiest place to take out frustrations is on companions who, in this case will be “indecisive about lunch” and “dehydrated.” With this glimpse into an inevitable travel breakdown, the moment when everything begins to crumble and the solution is often to retreat or regroup, the speaker returns to the joy of the “Green parakeets!” that opened the poem, reminding us, “that is not now.” It is a mistake, the poem suggests, to worry about the inevitable fall when there is a “now” to enjoy, and that realization brings us back to the park.

“Enjoy!” becomes a rallying cry in the middle of the poem. Returning to present tense, the speaker observes, “Now the temperature is perfect!” and emphatically lists all the wonders encountered, from the beauty of “water lilies” to the comfort and relief of “air conditioning.” Everything is worth celebrating! Where some poets resist the exclamation point, Martinez deploys it purposefully, an endearing gesture that captures the wide-eyed enthusiasm of travelers for whom all emotions are intensified. Even disappointments such as not being able to purchase a cup of coffee when the jet lag kicks in because “everything is closed” can’t dim the joy of spotting “a kingfisher, dogs, (and) Americans” in Delhi.

The poem shifts modalities a last time as it enters its final section, repeating a command from both grandmothers who have sent these travelers on their journey to “Love each other!” The imperative voice shifts to the speaker, who lists a host of plans as injunctions, each starting with “Let us.” While the formality of “let us” hints at lofty or noble travel goals, the actual plans are more grounded in the truths and realities of travel: gaining weight, taking tons of photos, overpaying for goods and services, and sleeping through the active part of some days. In other words, the somewhat exalted expectations raised by the formal syntax of “let us” are subverted by the activities described, and this is where the poem makes its tender magic for me. These aren’t the descriptions of travel brochures, not what I imagine as I fantasize about the escapes I so long for—certainly I’m capable of these activities in my very own home. Nevertheless, I find these details to be the most familiar, accurate, and relatable depiction of actual travel, as if Martinez has looked through my own memories of watching American soap operas in a hotel room in Vientiane, eating three servings of pad thai in Bangkok, or paying for a sweater in Rome in US dollars at an outrageous exchange rate. As such, these phrases can be read as not just injunctions to the companion in the poem but as exhortations to us all.

I especially appreciate that “In Delhi” begins a section in the chapbook called “Disorientation,” reminding me that the benefit of such travel is, in part, the myriad challenges it offers while providing an opportunity to reconsider one’s orientation in the world. A poem that both offers me a new experience (I haven’t been to Delhi—yet) and recalls for me the delights of my own travels is a triumph, and just what I need as I wait out restrictions and decide when it’s safe and ethical to hit the road again.


Amanda Moore‘s debut collection of poems, Requeening, was selected for the National Poetry Series and will be published by HarperCollins/Ecco in October 2021. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies including ZYZZYVA, Cream City Review, and Best New Poets, and she is the recipient of writing awards from The Writing Salon, Brush Creek Arts Foundation, and The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. Currently a Brown Handler Resident at the San Francisco Friends of the Public Library, Amanda is a high school teacher and Marin Poetry Center Board member, and she lives by the beach in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco with her husband and daughter. Author photo credit: Clementine Nelson.



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