Samia Menon is a 17 year old from Cleveland, Ohio. The co-editor of her school’s literary magazine, Calliope, she enjoys sharing stories in any way she can. When she’s not writing or illustrating, you can find her playing tennis, cheering on the Cavaliers, or just trying something new.
To those I will leave
If I squeeze your fingers
tightly—like I could never feel again,
like a long-starved serpent whose
sweet venom trickles stale,
whose loving fangs press into the creases
of your papery palm—
what should I loathe?
The wrinkle or
A Conversation on “To those I will leave”
1. This poem takes our image of the backstabbing, snake-like friend and twists it, showing us the perspective of the snake-friend that we usually don’t see. What inspired you to show a new side of this concept?
As you said, the symbol of the snake is often used to characterize a traitor, immorality. In the same sense, “To those I will leave” is about the mixed feelings involved in a goodbye. Knowing the departure will inevitably come, it can’t help but feel like snake-like abandonment, so, to compensate, you hold on more tightly than ever before—ironically, becoming more and more serpentine.
2. The final dichotomy between “the wrinkle” and “the poison” leaves a lot of interpretation to the reader. For Maheen, “it feels like the speaker is trying to decide whether they hate the scar they left more, or the actual power they have to leave.” For me, hating “the wrinkle” seemed to imply that some blame could be placed on the friend being left, for having an open, trusting hand. What did you intend while writing, and how do the different possible interpretations interact?
It makes me so happy to see your different interpretations. The ending was purposely left ambiguous, so the reader can project their own experiences onto the poem. While I was writing “To those I will leave,” my wrinkle represented the rift between friends that will be left behind, and the poison is the guilt that will continue to pool long after saying goodbye. “Wrinkle” implies delicateness; “poison” implies power. The contrast between the two intends to capture the extremities of emotions involving abandonment—exactly how so is left to the reader.
3. The act of squeezing a finger is both comforting and unsettling, “dangerous as well as desirable” (in Marriah’s words). How do these drastically different tones coexist and blend here?
The phrase “like I’ll never let you go” is wildly fascinating to me. It exists in a simultaneously comforting and eerie space. Do you care about them so much? If so, the sentiment in itself is akin to suffocating them. In the same vein, as the speaker intends to wrap themselves around their friend, keep them forever, these sweet intentions only lead to poisonous or wrinkled results. These final actions are natural, yet still can surprise oneself.
The pot lies empty and restless,
fill it up with kind chai tea.
For chai just means tea, and
tea just means leaves, and
the exotic placebo will root.
Boil it until its colors are gone,
and you’ll have a brimming pot
of tea tea.
A Conversation on “Jeevanee”
1. Behind its simple exterior, this poem explores what it means to live in a melting “pot,” how cultures blend and “the exotic placebo will root.” Can you speak to the deeper social commentary here?
In a “melting pot” society, you are pushed to one of two extremes: blend into the normal, or become a caricature of your background. One thing I always found amusing was the common use of calling a drink “chai tea”, when in Hindi, chai does just mean tea. Simultaneously, we treat it as exotic by using the word chai and almost erase its identity by juxtaposing it with the English word, tea. Somehow, I believe, we must find a middle.
2. The lines “fill it up” and “boil it” speak directly to the reader, urging them to action. How does this second-person, command style impact the reader’s experience of the poem?
The phenomenon of losing yourself and your identity is never a matter of simple choice. It’s forced by your surroundings. They demand you to boil out the unsavory and fill yourself up with either the blandness or concentration that is left. I wanted the reader to feel that force in this short poem.
3. The title, Jeevanee, translates to life/biography in Hindi (where it’s stylized जीवनी). Why did you choose this title, and why did you choose to represent it in the Latin alphabet?
This poem, in itself, is a sort of autobiography, but I think mine is a common experience. I consider myself first and foremost a Midwesterner, but in the eyes of those around me, it’s simple to point me out using my heritage. When I visit India, I am almost a watered-down version of what they want to see. I am a product of boiling and filling up. Just as the title, lying comfortably in the Western, Latin alphabet but holding deeper South Indian significance, members of a melting pot society fall in the complex intersection between these two worlds.
Thank you so much for this opportunity!