On this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for a beautifully-produced, slim volume of poems by my friend, Lalita Noronha. The book is dedicated to her own mother, Agnes Mary Noronha, who passed away in 2006.
Her Skin Phyllo-Thin describes the relationship between mother and daughter, strained over time, stretched across an ocean, but resilient. It is also a book that celebrates the strength of women across generations. In one poem, “Across Bones,” Noronha writes:
But when, on moonless nights,
I start to cry,
my grandmother reaches far
across my mother’s bones,
gathers my tears. […]
I inhale her breath,
and her mother’s mother’s breath,
vapors of ten thousand years,
and years before that.
When today becomes yesterday,
and days before that,
she knows I will stretch across
my daughter’s bones,
touch my granddaughter’s cheek…
Noronha, a native of India, a scientist and fiction writer, is also a gifted poet, who finds inspiration for her verse in her “search between continents, between sky and sky, between then and now for home.” She folds other themes – immigration, new worlds, marriage, family – into her poems, and many of her images are stunning in her accuracy. In “Sponge Bath,” she describes her mother’s hair, “a silver puff of dandelion”; in the same poem, we have the image that titles the collection. Several poems in this volume are also inspired by artwork housed at the Baltimore Museum of Art, by Gauguin and Rodin and others.
Her Skin Phyllo-Thin is a lovely gift from Noronha to her own mother, illuminating all the roles that mothers play and the tragedies they bear, as well as portraying how layered and complicated mother-daughter relationships can be.