A Triptych of Birds & A Few Loose Feathers

Book Reviews Memoirs & Poetry & Fiction

Prartho Sereno reviews Pratibha Castle’s collection of poems.

A Triptych of Birds …& A Few Loose Feathers A Triptych of Birds & A Few Loose Feathers
Poems by Pratibha Castle
Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2022
ISBN 9781913499365
Available directly from the author pratibhacastlepoetry.com

In her beautifully wrought debut poetry collection, Pratibha Castle “tends a wild garden” where “Wolf sense” idles her into “random fields” and “flowers [with] tongueless bells/ chime spells …”. These poems are invitations to look through the clear eyes of one whose heart has been broken open and the caged birds have been set free. As the poet wrestles with her deepest questions, made more vivid by the death of her mother, we witness a kind of alchemy; life’s bewildering mix of joy and grief is transformed into a spacious acceptance.

It was the passing of her mother in 2007 that called Pratibha, age 57, to her poetic pilgrimage, earning a first-class Honours degree from the University of Chichester and continuing on for a Masters degree. Naturally then, one of the threads in her tapestry is the complication of affections, angers, and griefs for the mother she carries inside her, even after the body is gone. From her honest grappling with the white waters of Mothering that every child must navigate, an unexpected compassion arises. In the poem “Drowning”, she matches an actual experience of thrashing for her life in the water with a memory of watching her mother washing out sheets by hand:

Her hands scalded red with
washing soda, effort …
splish splash sluice
to erase a stain stubborn
as sin …

All of the poet’s memories are so fierce and tender and precise, we find ourselves smack in the middle of our own lives, moving again through the adult world with the eyes of a child. Yes, the particulars of Pratibha’s story are unique. But it’s one of the mysteries of storytelling that the more specific the details, the more universal the understanding. As I let these images wash through me, I met my own story. It turns out, as has been noted by poets, everybody’s life is a metaphor for everybody else’s.

Pratibha CastleBut not all of these poems are about the human family. A good many take us to Pratibha’s places of refuge (or perhaps more accurately, worship)—into the wild fields and marshes of rural England. These are so generously written that we smell the grasses and muds of spring and are serenaded by birdsong as we make our way.

The book’s title suggests we take the collection as a triptych: a three-paneled art piece, often set upon an altar. It is easy to enter this collection as if entering a small temple with its Triptych of Birds. There is something intimately sacred in these poems of witness. The birds that continue to flit through are not only our metaphor, but also our spirit guides. The blackbirds “augur weather and death”, newlywed sparrows teach lessons on “housekeeping”. The curve of a white teapot’s spout becomes “a heart stab/ memory of swans”. And during a walk at dawn, we suddenly see how “…dawn/ might be/ cradled like/ a dove’s egg…”

This small book does what poetry is meant to do—bring us back to a watchful place inside, where we can be at peace with what is and admire the “loose feathers” as they fly.

[The book was launched via zoom on a Sunday evening, 3 April 2022, to which Pratibha had invited other authors to also read their poetry. It was a delight! Ed.]

Related article on Osho News

South DownsSouth DownsA poem from the book, A Triptych of Birds & A Few Loose Feathers, by Pratibha Castle – recited by the author


(Ma Prem) Prartho Sereno is the author of 4 prize-winning poetry collections and Poet Laureate Emerita of Marin County, CA (2015-17) – prarthosereno.com

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