Through her third poetry collection, Fire Is Not A Country, Indonesian American poet Cynthia Dewi Oka shares a unique and personal portrait of migration, political turmoil, culture and love in the imagery of family and community. The poems, divided into interludes, each explore the intertwining histories and multitudes of identity.
Many of the pieces use complex and oftentimes murky language – where the true meaning or event described feels obscured or difficult to envision. And yet even when the intended meaning may not be so clear, Oka’s speakers always pack a powerful punch of emotions.
Through every line, she sews the seams of memories with time through beautiful, evocative imagery. And occasionally Oka references other works, anywhere from Ross Gay to even Dr. Who. But whether we know the reference or not, somehow, the words and emotions all blend together to make you feel as if you were there in that moment. These blurred moments create dynamic recollections of familial love and obligation tied with intergenerational trauma and systemic violence. Oka challenges the perceptions of “us” versus “them” as she takes the audience on a journey about what it means to be seen or understood beyond the physical realm.
As someone of Indonesian heritage, I was excited to read Fire Is Not A Country. Both empowering and mystifying, I was reminded of perseverance in oneself, as well as migrant communities in the fight against cultural and historical erasure.