Mango Tree is intended to be read in one sitting: it is a sequence of poems that builds into a personal memoir of a particular time and place and as such is written in a way that enables the reader to feel a part of this. It spans a short period of discovery and strengthening of love for a person and his country. From the first tentative steps of “Going Away” it rolls through a gambit of emotions to one of the pivotal poems of the collection “The Queue” when a sense of belonging and connection plants itself in the soil. From that point on there is a new understanding and awareness and eventually the pain of departure. What happens next is another story.
Mango Tree is a sequence of poems, and ideally that’s how it should be read — from beginning to end (so if you haven’t already, I recommend you consider buying the book.)
But I asked Valerie, if I could include one of her poems here, and she said yes, and I’ve chosen “Mango Tree”. Mangoes appear in at least two or three of the poems in the book. But in the titular poem, a cobra also makes an appearance – snaking in and out of time. I like the poem because of the deft storytelling, the setting, the strong mix of emotions, and Valerie’s ability to say (and to suggest) so much with carefully chosen words. To me as a reader, this poem felt like a wormhole in time & space —a crucial point where anything might or might not happen.
You take me to your village –
to the mango grove where
you’d met the cobra.
You show me the place
where it slept in the heat
to a child’s height
from side to side
in fury or confusion –
you didn’t stay long enough to find out.
I feel you hesitate
on the edge of the long grass
and my own feet refuse
to move, in case it’s been waiting
all those years,
to make certain
you and I could never be.
The snake is one of the primordial creatures, rich in symbolism. I own a copy of this wonderful book The Book of Symbols – Reflections on Archetypal Images (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism). Here’s an excerpt from the essay on snakes. It makes me think of Valerie’s poem where the snake is dangerous, mysterious, but also represents the opportunity for rebirth, and a new relationship —
Valiant, epiphanic and terrifying, snakes flare up out of the earth or from under leaf litter or rocks or the dark waters of rivers or the darkness of the psyche. The underworld realm of the dead that snakes mythically inhabit is also the fecund ground from which new life emerges, a place of healing, initiation and revelation, dominion of the ancient Great Goddess.