Poetry by Purvi Shah

“Ocean—we are connected” by Emily Choi / emilychoimoog



Burning is ocean shared


(Fukushima chant: 5 years, 10 years, quake years, 30 years, isotopic iteration, water, water everywhen)
“More than 80 percent of the radioactivity from the damaged reactors ended up in the Pacific — far more than reached the ocean from Chernobyl or Three Mile Island.” – Ken Buesseler, March 9, 2016

“Today, the radiation at the Fukushima plant is still so powerful it has proven impossible to get into its bowels to find and remove the extremely dangerous blobs of melted fuel rods, weighing hundreds of tonnes. Five robots sent into the reactors have failed to return.” – Aaron Sheldrick and Minami Funakoshi, March 11, 2016

“Cooling water levels have fallen in two reactors at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant since a powerful earthquake hit the area last weekend, indicating possible additional damage, its operator said Friday… ‘The case raises the question of whether we should tolerate a society that prioritizes economic activities over people’s lives and health,’ said Izutaro Mangi.” – Mari Yamaguchi, February 19, 2021


              Of ancestral reefs & corals, you dreamt –        the names        of the Goddess 
as anemone, each hue a harbinger                     of disappearance, the splayed 

shakti of sorrow, of that which you behold – will surely disintegrate.               What paperwork 

                                                                                                                              do fish use to immigrate? 

This 60% of you – what could be sea – what could be 
75% of your bowels – this water that recycles life 

& half-lives, this body’s fuel & cleanser that fuels 
the body, that detoxifies & extends our whole 

life, that converges in beds of ocean, in scales 
of contamination         where even the robots 


                                                        do not survive. 

5 years, 10 years, fish years, catch no longer 
eaten by hooks & hands          but by isotopes. 

A fuel log or a rockfish 8 km off          the coast, a becquerel 
                                                        of violence, or simply 

500 becquerels of cesium/kg, 5x beyond safety of human 
consumption, 10x above fishery standards.                   Search 

for all the names                             for all the fishermen 
who couldn’t evacuate                   but needed to evacuate. Search 

for all the limbs                             you would rejoin.                             No need 
to search:               Radiation                    didn’t request 	              a visa to make it 

              here – 	California’s 

coast crumbles – in case 
              you are more troubled 
by disasters near. 


                            Silver hair in your heart, 
              a fist shouldering the work 
of rot or renewal. A repair caught 

in your throat	                            when your thyroid can no 
longer parse life from griefs.                     You want solutions –  

*                           – but energy 

is a question, an overlapping 
              ambition you never know 
                            will emerge or disrupt or sit up 
                                          or breathe – or marvel. 

What is the half-life of memory? 

You dream of living on less & less 	                            water. You dream of drought 
             & liking it, of holding parch                like a newborn against 

your nipple. The tide 
              pulls you in,  
pulls you out.               The music of 

the world burns.                       You ache 

and feel the cold of a bluefin which was once skittering. 

What happens               when memory? 

                                                                                     (– all is safe, all 
                                                      will be well –) Your shawl is slipping 

off shoulder. It is too nuclear to be shawled.                  You travel to see hammerheads 

in a cage. You grab                     yesterday, hold hope between your teeth 

until the moment           blisters its tail.                             Even the robots have melted into 

the melting. Tomorrow’s innovation burns. 

                                                                      You don’t dream of life              returning.  

                                         We are not  

& yet the ocean is one. Energy 
             created, energy escaped. 

                             Your womb shakes 

as          history (unsettling). We are not 

                             but the ocean is one. We  
             are fever                           mistaken 

                                         for a toxin. Your voice bears 

                             waters. We & 

the ocean one.                 We, the ocean, are one. 

                             The pounding womb  
of ocean nears	                         & disappears. 

Of life – you	                   don’t dream – 


Purvi Shah’s favorite art practices are her sparkly eyeshadow, raucous laughter, and seeking justice. She won the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Service Excellence Award for her leadership fighting violence against women. Her new book, Miracle Marks (Northwestern University Press, 2019), explores women, the sacred, and gender and racial equity; her debut prize-winning book, Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), plumbs migration and belonging. Her work has been taught in universities and featured on TV, radio, and websites. During the 10th anniversary of 9/11, with Kundiman, she directed Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project highlighting Asian American voices. With artist Anjali Deshmukh, Shah creates interactive art at circlefor.com. Their participatory project, Missed Fortunes, documented experiences, celebrations, and pandemic rituals to create poetry and visual art, connection, and a community archive for healing. You can see and purchase the art prints at tiny.one/circlefor. Find more @PurviPoets.