Vahni Capildeo

Solitary gregarious impossible animal sleeps furiously, writes devouringly, bakes cakes

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Based in the UK

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Vahni Capildeo (born 1973, Trinidad), moved to England in 1991 to read English at Christ Church, Oxford; completing a DPhil in Old Norse and translation theory overlapped with a Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge.

Her parents Devendranath (a poet) and Leila (who studied French and Philosophy) influenced her writing, which crosses genres, moving from dreamlike to satirical, mixing languages and landscapes: the Caribbean; Yorkshire; Scotland; Iceland; Ireland; India.

Her books include No Traveller Returns (Salt, 2003), Utter (Peepal Tree, 2013), Simple Complex Shapes (Shearsman, 2015) and Measures of Expatriation (Carcanet, 2016). She also writes prose and collaborates on performances.

Dark and Unaccustomed Words from Riposte Pictures on Vimeo.

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Measures of Expatriation, 2016, Carcanet

Simple Complex Shapes, 2015, Shearsman

Utter; 2013, Peepal Tree

Dark & Unaccustomed Words, 2012, Eggbox

Utter, 2009, Eggbox

Person Animal Figure, 2005, Landfill

No Traveller Returns, 2003, Salt

Extract: 'Simple Complex Shapes'

You have the same name as him.
My conscript tongue has practice
in bitter acrobatics,
transitioning from close to
close so often
to containment;
instead of climbing
those chained sounds that mean him, self-
saboteur, swallows
state-of-the-art equipment,
drops calls, lacerates greetings,
slides into appeal,
nylon misdirections, all to fall
into the place of amputation
he nominated mildness.
His name is to his palate.
It behaves.
Will not be severed from him.
You have the same name.
Yet for how many times it was his
in my mouth, it is yours once,
is the only sweet almond
in the tumbled bag,
is the spit buds taste.
For it has nothing of summoning,
your name: the mouth-bearing thing
I was, when shut up,
you so quickly translate
out of relation.
My tongue a blindfold
drawn by you finds you,
finding with each space that comes
it is coming in your shape.

Extract: 'Stop, Passenger'

For Vivek Narayanan


i held out my arms i woke up smiling
i held out my eyes and opened my arms
my eyes held out the arms were awakened
my eyes holding out for an opening
the holding of eyes commencement of arms

Unbeholden, unbidden

as the dog stricken of its fur flees on shipboard
(like a bouquet of roses launched travellerwards from shore)
finding its feet finds no master for mangy days
so mangy days a calendar of gangplanks
gagging and barking a wake of particular salt

Unbidden, unbecoming

as the dog whines and presses up against lifeboats
(cocooned as if hatching monarch butterfly flags)
fledging a fur the wind crisps thin to infancy
the technology of its tail a piece with uselessness
useless with tenderness plumed for a go-nowhere walk

Deterred, abiding

the sea returns to turquoise strung with jets
the shore lines up it is assumed by sight
the shore too much behind the lines too bright
un-sea un-shore waving back each tender
stop passenger it is the jetty night

Extract: 'Laptop Blue Screen Rationalization'

I need to delete the shortcut that is Timothy. He sold me the one and only futureproofed summer of my experience. Standing ankle-deep in wild garlic in a Sussex lane he spoke of roses, and I almost bought it; I almost bought it right then and there when a 4X4 careened down the middle of the national speed limit lane sprung with Tudor-looking hedgerows almost spiky enough to stick a row of heads on, and in a whiff of gasoline one of those very common rabbits paid the price of someone else’s rich misuse of private transport and screamed time no longer.

I need to delete the shortcut that is Timothy. It was down the river that he sold me that summer.  Wearing the feminist Germaine Cellier’s Bandit perfume, which she formulated after sniffing the knickers straight off the models on a post-World War II runway…I actually bought it; I actually bought it, a scent that accelerates from a whiff of gasoline only to end in the cabinet, medicinal dead wood branching out into fatherly hangers.

I need to delete the shortcut that is Timothy but first I must delete Linda, because he added her, but if I delete Linda, I need to delete Susan, because they were on a jobshare and they were never more than workfriends, who should not have had any shortcuts anyway.

I didn’t rightclick on Timothy. I leftclicked on Timothy. I’m opening Timothy. I remember the summer that was Timothy, but I do not recall what’s inside Timothy. How many keystrokes have been wasted on Timothy…

Timothy contains seven folders: Wrath, Greed, Pride, Sloth, Lust, Envy and Gluttony. These names do not look right. It was a night to remember when I went into Timothy and renamed everything within Timothy. I do not recall that night. I do not wish to delve too deeply into the sevenfold contents of Timothy.

Timothy was a project manager and he made projections. Perhaps the sins correspond to the phases of our project; our futureproofed summer. Wrath is Thinking, Greed is Planning, Pride is Doing, Sloth is Monitoring, Lust is the Exit Phase leading to or perhaps including the Feedback of Envy, while there’s no place in the scheme for Gluttony, which clearly means this guess is wrong. I might as well call the notes of a musical scale or name the colours of the rainbow as continue with this childish game. I’m hovering over and selecting the entirety of Timothy, about to finish him off.

Timothy had set the background of my laptop to roses, which used too much memory, making everything freeze, and he introduced a Trojan horse by unprotected browsing. There are babies in foreign lands named after Timothy by mothers he never met; many project workers relied remotely on Timothy.

Now it’s all blue again and it’s coming back to me. It’s coming back to me since I’m deleting the shortcut that is Timothy.

What was most difficult was proving that it was suicide, though the irregular little room with vodka windows and cranberry shantung curtains in the hotel near to the railway station seemed made only for that or the other thing; but I had no interest in finishing off the real Timothy, who taught me that income and happiness are not linked, so whether I am worse off or better off since the death of the real Timothy makes no difference, especially since we are in crisis and also at war, and for such a long time I hung on to the shortcut that was Timothy. The real Timothy was philosophical; when it turned out that neither Susan nor Linda could spell, he said: at least we know where they were educated and that they’ll have no choice but to listen to us when they make their choices; then he struck a deal under the table with the futureproofer from the rival company, a deal which seemed as if it could turn out to my advantage, though instead as you see I’m living in this different place now, with people like you. 

And if the real Timothy were here he’d pluck out the heart of our mystery, reminding me that a positive correlation does not necessarily indicate a cause.

Though it’s a pretty rotten coincidence that all my other icons vanished almost as soon as I’d deleted the shortcut that is Timothy; and the blue screen is bluer than you’d have thought.


Published in Measures of Expatriation (2016). Copyrighted and reprinted here by kind permission of Carcanet Press Limited, Manchester, UK. 

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