In the end is not apocalypse but another morning where everyone tells me I’m dead (Yavanika Press, 2021), Tanya Singh’s most recent poetry chapbook, they use concise, first-person, lyric narratives to decipher cultural trauma. Singh wrote these fifteen prose poems in response to the 1984 Sikh Genocide; each poem is historically specific, yet also timeless and contemporary in their exploration of memory, the supernatural, death, and what comes after.
According to official governments reports 3,000 Sikhs were murdered throughout India within the first three days of the 1984 Sikh Genocide. Other unofficial death estimates are much higher. In June of the same year, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a military assault on Darbar Sahib, one of the most significant Sikh religious centers. In October, the Prime Minister was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. The assassination triggered the next several days of violence, where thousands of Sikh men were burned alive or beaten to death with wooden clubs.
the end is not apocalypse but another morning where everyone tells me I’m dead is not a strictly nonfiction retelling of this event; instead, it shows how Singh—and the poetic speakers they create—process trauma over time. The chapbook is separated into three acts: ”I have felt love before so I recognize the absence of it,” “Is there anything untouched by death?”, and “The end of the body is where it begins.” Each section starts with an epigraph from news articles, either direct quotes from survivors or descriptions of the violence.
The first section, “I have felt love before so I recognize the absence of it,” imagines the conflict from within the event. The speakers of “I”, “II”, “III”, “IV”, and “V” hide in neighbors’ houses, under tables, or in churches. This world is silent except for “my father crying” in “III” and the sound of crackling fire, reminiscent of the way many Sikhs were murdered by being burned alive. This section forces the reader to see cultural tragedy and trauma in the present tense, rather than as historical events. Nevertheless, the speakers ask questions about a mysterious and already haunting future. In “III”: “Does evil come from god, too? Does evil die? I’m afraid I might already know the answer. I’m afraid the light at the end of the tunnel will consume us before we even see it.”
Sections two and three, “Is there anything untouched by death?” and “The end of the body is where it begins” are, to some extent, an answer to these questions. They are more contemporary in setting, or at least more contemporary than the 1984 days of violence. “X” explores how the memory of the 1984 Sikh Genocide affects the speaker after the event. The speaker is “all safe. It’s a joke and the audience laughs.” “When the doorbell rings, no one’s home. That’s how we make it alive.” There is tension between the past and the present here; does living past a traumatic event require the speaker to forget?
Death, in reality and in the chapbook, touches all things. Death is a background that, when connected to other included themes like religion or family, shifts in different shades with a nevertheless consistent tone. In “I,” “the quiet rubbed. It ached so full of ghosts, bodies scattered like crumbs.” By “IV,” those bodies take a different form: “The faces of dead people shine bright… I sleep with a knife inside my mouth, my tongue a nest of blood calling every song holy.” Specifically in section two, “Is there anything untouched by death?”, but also throughout the collection, connections to death allow for a more significant and nuanced understanding of Singh’s other subjects.
Memory is perhaps a less clear theme of the chapbook, but its presence is implicit in the subject matter. In itself, this book is a way of remembering. Singh takes on serious responsibility to remember and convey the memory of the 1984 Sikh Genocide well. Attar Kaur, the subject the article referenced in the first epigraph, lost her husband and eleven members of her extended family in the genocide. “Unlike others in the colony, who have stopped speaking to the press, too tired to go through the pain again, Kaur never turns down anybody.” Like many other Sikhs in the region, Kaur still experiences intense grief because she remembers. However, she uses her retellings to invite others to grieve with her.
In “VI,” the poem from which the chapbook takes its title, the speaker explains that “Dead is the name for people we love from a distance so it doesn’t hurt much, or at all. Dead is the name you don’t remember. Because remembering, like everything else, is too heavy to carry its own weight.” It may be less painful to forget, but, through their writing of this chapbook, Singh choses to remember anyway. They ask the reader questions about the importance and value of remembering historic grieving, both for the outsider and the griever.
Hailey Small is based in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she writes lyric prose and watches gingko leaves turn soft each November. Hailey is a junior at Asbury University, working towards a BA in English and History. She enjoys working in Asbury’s writing center, where she partners with remedial English students to make academia and creative writing more accessible. Most recently, Hailey was published in The Asbury Review, where she also serves as the creative non-fiction editor, and anthrowcircus.com.