death of an imaginary friend
by Archita Mittra
you, a midnight sonata, a shadow dance, a shower of stars, an untethered black balloon drifting into empty space/ i, an island ghost, a green lake forgotten by the sky, a piano key never touched, a summer storm/ together you & i, a myth, the moon, the white between words, a basin of dark flowers, blooming, an ending-
you, a dream writing itself into my past, a fading cheshire grin, a name in my yellowed journal/ you, a washed out color, smelling like childhood, promising that some seasons never end, look at that enchanted sky, full dark, this is where the swans come with their melting songs/ you, eyes the smoky-yellow of street lamps stuttering a code i, i cannot remember(forgive me), a restless empty city i dream to life/ tell me to stay & i will, beneath this pegasus-shaped cloud, this whispered vow, this sunless hope-
i, a mistake you wrote over to correct, a tattooing of a scar, a melancholy love/ i, real here, unreal elsewhere, like you, like us/ we kissed once remember ( a misty mirror, icy-cold, electric like a favorite song played the first time)/ we lived & bled the only way there is to live & /we, imperfect & starlit, a medieval forest dappled with birdsong, a sliver of a gasoline rainbow/ we an echo of our own bleeding voices/ tell me to stay & i will, like a chant, like dusk, like a melody in your mind-
we , a black box, a dark drowning, that whirlwind age, that painted-over graffiti, dust/ we, a lighthouse with no light, a nightmare-black ocean, lonely as a dying star/ we, who were forever once, constellated & perfect, manic-eyed/ perhaps in this universe, there are worse ways to die/ faeries sing on the other side, you say (said)/ fade, leave (left) like a love letter unsent & crumpled, like autumn/ we, a song i loved once but love no more-
you, who taught me to sing & i voiceless as a memory, a night sky.
First appeared in The Stray Branch 2018
Archita Mittra is a writer and artist with a fondness for all things vintage and darkly fantastical. A student of English Literature at Jadavpur University, she also has a Diploma in Multimedia and Animation from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. She also loves tarot cards, Doctor Who, calligraphy, rabbits and blueberry milkshakes.
Archita says of her style, “I still feel that I haven’t developed a ‘style’ yet and that I have so much more to learn, but there are certain things I consciously try to do when I write something, be it poetry or fiction. I try to bring in that sense of strangeness and wonder that is characteristic of magic realism, I play a lot with run-on and free-flowing sentences and I prefer writing in lower case, because for me it signifies a sense of equality and softness. And yes, a lot of my poems end up being quite dark or melancholy, but I think that’s more of my temperament.”
Bekah and Archita’s work—including the above poem—both appeared in the The Stray Branch Fall/Winter 2018 issue. We wanted to know more about Archita and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.
Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included with your interview. Is there a backstory you want to share?
A~The poem, at least the way I imagined it, is a melancholy love letter to all the imaginary friends of my childhood, all of them who ultimately left, because I grew up and apart from them. Most of my childhood was pretty lonely in the sense I didn’t really have “kids” of my age I could play with or relate to, and school was another whole degree of unrealness, and like most lonely kids, I made up my own friends and adventures. Like characters in an Enid Blyton story, my imaginary friends, and I would go off exploring or do things I couldn’t or wasn’t allowed to in real life, and I remember going to sleep thinking about an adventure or two, and I would constantly talk to them in my head.
So, many of these moments–these adventures–weren’t real in the sense that they happened in reality, but happened in my head, and felt real nonetheless. And, this poem is about trying to remember all of it, to coalesce all those colors and emotions and songs and smells into a piece of text. And the thing is, the process of remembering or nostalgia is almost always sad, because you know certain things will never come again, no matter how hard you wish for it to be otherwise, and that you’re no longer the person you once thought yourself to be. You can’t just draw a pentagram and summon your imaginary friends anymore, because you’ve changed so much, and so have your ways of thinking/imagining. It’s almost like the whole thing of the kids being too old to return to Narnia.
I keep a small notebook filled with phrases, words and sentences to use as “prompts” and I think the poem stemmed from me rifling through my notebook, and realizing that all of these half-formed phrases and images told a story, a story of magic found and of magic lost, a story of a lonely girl, desperate to believe in something. And, that was when I started to write it, and the images kept pouring in, and it was only a matter of stringing them together.
Q~Why do you write poetry?
A~I write and create in a variety of mediums, and I’d say each of them have their own specific flavor. I’ve been writing poetry since middle school. I was one of those emo kids who’d write poems about unrequited love, killing oneself and celebrity in the back of my notebooks or the margins of textbooks and doodle broken hearts or anime girls in the blank spaces as well. I could spiritually relate to the lyrics and music video of Linkin Park’s “Numb.” Later, I would write longer poems and ballads along the same themes, and experimented with a bunch of forms- villanelles, sestinas, sonnets, ghazals and the like.
And, though I’ve taken breaks to write short stories and games and fanfics and unfinished novels, I always keep coming back to poetry because it feels so organic and natural, the best way I can crystallize an emotion into words. Poetry doesn’t always make sense the way plot strands in a novel come together, but it has its own strange logic and can make you feel things with an image or turn of phrase, that you just can’t replicate in any other medium. So yes, no matter what I write, I think poetry will always be a genre I’m emotionally close to.
Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work? What are they and why do they resonate with you?
A~I’ve always been drawn towards the gothic or the darkly fantastical, and I think there’s that streak in my works. In terms of subjects I guess I always keep coming back to themes of abandonment, betrayal, loneliness, failure, memory and magic. I think that when as kids, we go through traumatic, painful or even strange experiences, we often have no way to process them, and so we latch on to certain images or memories, and no matter how many good things happen, the sadness isn’t always cancelled out. The past is unchangeable, no matter how often you revisit it, and sometimes the only thing you can do is tell the same story but in different ways, in a different color, and spot something you hadn’t noticed before. As someone who was bullied in school and who (for a number of reasons I won’t get into), always had to deal with feelings of loneliness and being alienated, I guess it felt natural to gravitate towards dark and strange things because that’s where I could breathe and find something to relate to.
Q~What’s your writing process like?
A~I don’t really have a writing process, and every year I keep trying to get into a writing routine, but I fail. But yes, I usually jot down ideas and phrases on my phone or in a notebook, and most of my poems either begin with a word or an image, or a central idea. Sometimes I might be stuck in the subway and write a short poem on my phone to pass the time, or maybe I am studying for a test and I’m frustrated, so I’ll jot some lines down that may later become a poem. In short, there isn’t really planning involved. However if I’m writing a story, I’ll usually plan it out in terms of a chart or a timeline of events and then begin.
Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?
A~My poetry tastes have been through many phases. There was a time, I’d almost exclusively read only Romantic and Victorian poets, and I went through a phase where I literally worshipped Sylvia Plath. In my high school, I went around quoting Eliot’s Prufrock and Marvell’s His Coy Mistress (only the bit at the end, “though we cannot make our sun /Stand still, yet we will make him run” because I found that incredibly daring and hopeful) the whole time. I’d also read a lot of Rilke, Neruda and Rumi in translation. Closer to my culture, I loved children’s rhymes in Bengali and the playful non-sense poems of Sukumar Ray. For a while, I followed a lot of insta poets like Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav, but I’ve grown out of it now. In college, as an English major, I had to read tons of poets, and in my fourth semester I took up this course called “Postcolonial Poetry,” and we read so many wonderful, beautiful contemporary poets, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I also love Carol Ann Duffy for how accessible she is, and I think accessibility is one of my personal preferences when it comes to reading poetry nowadays. Maybe the whole poem doesn’t have to be accessible, but there has to something or some part that I can understand or sparks a trail of emotions or something I find inexplicably beautiful.
Q~Who was your poetry first love?
A~When I was a kid, my mother would read out from a poetry anthology, and I remember it had poems like Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners” and Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” in it, and those are still my favorite poems. I loved “The Listeners” for the way it evoked that derelict abandoned house full of phantoms and a lonely traveler waiting at the doorstep for someone, something to answer and the whispering world of the forest and the night wind, and the Lady of Shalott will always be close to my heart, for the way it talks about a girl who is forever trapped, who is cursed for no reason, who dies because she dares to love, and it’s so tragic and Tennyson writes it in a way that is so musical, vivacious and full of color, but there’s that underlying melancholy and darkness attached to it.
Q~Who are you reading now?
A~Right now, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction and fantasy. I’m slowly working my way through the fantasy works of Brandon Sanderson, and I’ve just completed Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day which was a birthday present. I also recently met Markus Zusak at a literary event and was lucky enough to get a signed copy of The Book Thief, which I can’t wait to begin. On the poetry front, we’ve been discussing a lot of Charlotte Smith’s sonnets and her influence on the Romantic poets in class, and it’s so interesting to read her work. Oh, and because I love tabletop role-playing, I’ve been reading a lot of the rpg handbooks of Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer, simply because I’m a sucker for fantasy and detailed world building. I suppose in a way, they reconnect me to the imaginary worlds and the characters I made up as a kid, and they help me to relive some of the better things of childhood in an entertaining and enriching way. To quote one of my all-time favorite characters Luna Lovegood, “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end. If not always in the ways we expect.”
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~Keep writing even if you and everyone else think it is crap and to keep putting it out there, because you don’t know when someone will stumble on it and find something that they resonate with. Don’t hold yourself up to any standards, and remember that help usually comes from unexpected quarters–just be sincere to yourself about your writing, and you’ll get there, slowly but surely.
Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?
A~Nowadays, I usually post my poems on Tumblr and occasionally on Instagram. I also have a blog where I post reviews, interviews, stories and talk about pop culture and other literary stuff. I have a Facebook Page,which isn’t really that active, and nowadays, I do most of the interacting from my Profile. Feel free to follow or send a friend request (and assuming I don’t know you, it’s always best to drop a message first). I’m also on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr at @architamittra, and recently I’ve started an art page and a handmade jewelry line also on Instagram, so I’d really appreciate all the love and follows I can get.