A Cartography of Empathy

The Flayed City by Hari Alluri, Kaya Press, pp. 118 (http://kaya.com/books/the-flayed-city/)

RevisedFlayedCity-676x956The Flayed City, the recent collection from poet Hari Alluri, leaves no quarter for darkness. This book is a gem of a work from a distinctive, singular voice who brings his talent for storytelling and lyricism to create a synesthesia of memory, journey, and emotion that erases the arbitrariness of borders and draws a map of personal expedition that unfolds into universal human experience.

An incantatory stylist with a deep connection to his surroundings, Alluri is able to pull up the foundations of cities and mountains by the roots, and writes sweeping, melodic pieces that float and dance like an elaborate mobile. The Flayed City presents the idea of metropolis as beaten, weathered, but not broken. Alluri’s nation is a rejection of the ancien régime; a refusal of imperialism. Instead, he gathers disparate families in the city’s weathered arms of ruin and pulls apart the citizenship of state and molds it into the citizenship of lived familial experience. The experience spans the horrors of war, the alienation of the metropolis but also highlights the opportunity to love, and offers the reinvention of community.

Alluri writes: “To beautiful, here I am/the expression on the face of sand/straining toward glass”. In lines like these, he articulates the close proximity between beauty and loss; the intersection of absence and love. While Alluri’s work makes note of loss, violence and ending, he never writes with maudlin affectation. Rather, he creates an opportunity for the reader to find hope amongst the shifting weights of political, social, and environmental change; he creates an opportunity for something to be felt in the age of cynicism and objectification.

It is rare to find someone who is so deft at writing work that is aphoristic and grand; epic in scope and yet so particular in its sensations. The Flayed City is a nation-state defying gravity, gliding gently over the reader’s tongue as they work Alluri’s words into prayer. In lines like “Her grandmother picked that tea/on a mountain. A mountain in a war/whose shores were her bed. Steeping, the petals/open as if they know nothing of bullets” the reader can experience the transfiguration of displacement into blossom.

These words resonate within me as timeless echoes; these words are a conjuring of an ancient flame burning throughout our invisible infrastructure; these words are a recognition of the holiness of disaster and of renewal. As we enter into the miasma of a new, and frankly terrifying epoch, I take comfort in knowing that the voice of Hari Alluri will continue to burn bright.