Across Lands and Time: A Review of “A Story of the World Before the Fence” by Leeya Mehta
High on the hill,
beneath a fern sky of speckled spores
there is a place I long to describe
in a language I do not know.
Reads the first stanza of the “Towers of Silence” (p. 5) in Leeya Mehta’s poetry collection, A Story of the World Before the Fence (Finishing Line Press, 2020). Those delightful, surprising descriptions enliven each poem in this thirty-four page book. One may imagine an exotic tongue playing out the vivid images of distant lands while reading her poems, but nothing feels lost in the English descriptions. Although the longing for more direct connection to the past, to one’s land, to love, weaves beautifully throughout.
Mehta begins this collection with “Refugees,” a poem harkening back to 917 AD. She takes us from there, the Gulf of Hormuz, the Arabian sea, to coastal India, Japan, Maine, and DC. The reader feels each poem a part of these spaces through intimate stories of human interactions, as well as descriptions of place, but also feels the loss of where one is not; from where one was uprooted. “But you know, / the longing for what you cannot have / will keep you from settling anywhere,” as she writes in “The Years” (p. 18). And with a magical feel of images ripe to specific regions — holy fire, sandalwood, white rocks, shifting sand, snow, the reverence with which she illuminates her past challenges the reader to bear witness to their own ancestry, their own lost languages and lands. She paints a beautiful world while also hitting on profound truth: “We are practicing loss.” (p. 19)
Within these contexts of history, home, and heritage, Mehta offers thoughtful reflections on the aftermath of war; tales of love lost that read with courageous honesty; wistful celebrations of a departed friend, and tender moments of being a mother. With so many weighty themes, across continents and years, what stands out as especially remarkable in Mehta’s work is how alive the poems feel; how ultimately, despite displacement and loss, this collection illuminates and honors simple moments of joy and laughter to affirm life. Every time I revisit this collection, I perceive possibilities in thought expanded; it makes me like the world a bit more. Quite a gift!
Bio edited from her website. You can read more here: https://leeyamehta.com/about
Leeya's poetry explores the intimate space of the family and how it relates to the physical geography of cities and nature. Her first collection was The Towers of Silence. Leeya was born into a Parsi Zoroastrian family in Bombay. The Zoroastrian Parsis of India trace their descent in different waves from Persia over the last thousand years.
Leeya spent two years at Oxford University receiving a Master of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She received a Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University and works at the World Bank.
Leeya has won an international publication award from The Atlantic Review, with poems appearing in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Chandrabhagha, District Lit, Poetry London and Vinyl, amongst others.