Crimson Skins (Poetry & Prose) by Devika Mathur: A Review

Crimson Skins by Devika Mathur, Kindle Version available via Amazon

Firstly, I would be amiss if I did not state how honored I was to be asked to review this wondrous work by Devika Mathur. From what I have come to know of the writer, she is steadfast in her talent, dives into the raw and gritty surfaces of her feelings, and has no trouble sharing them with the world. With a style not akin to many writers I have read, Devika expresses herself with poetically sound language and a definite strength in her prose.

The aptly titled debut book, Crimson Skins, begins with “Olive Skin” which is a surefire opener, with power-packed phrases such as “My mother has a concave slippery mouth, untouchable with the slick tunes of time” and “She stitches her concrete bun as a belt of Ganges.”

The first section of poetry gets even better as the writer continues to deeply express herself using a style I like to call “raw surrealism.” “A fixation” is a good example of this. Two lines I found myself reading multiple times because I loved them that much are: “I have seen the postcards of vintage ink our lotus bodies sinking like air” and “You step on to my body, peeling layers of SCARS.” She is no stranger to poignant line breaks and metaphorical stanzas. Many of her poems, from what I have learned, are meant to be absorbed slowly–savored. It would not be wise to rush through them. And really, why would you want to?

“A swan of longing” is another favorite poem of mine. Devika uses a few nature images in this piece, however, the raw and gritty feel is still alive. “Climb up my knuckles, rest on the mount of flaky skin” says so much while not using many words. It’s succinct and compact yet still sends a punch straight to the gut. Another line that held my attention is, “Sew and move up. Climb to my cheekbones, now”–the imagery is intense and active. Reading it took me to another place, one where I would not mind venturing to more often.

Crimson Skins has a variety of work any reader will enjoy. The book isn’t basic and will be able to go the extra mile for years to come. I will be so bold as to say many of the pieces featured in it has the staying power of words by a few greats such as Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Virginia Woolf. It ends just as it began, with an intense piece of writing showcasing the writer’s talent.

“The art of silence” is placed exactly where it needs to be–the best for last. “Quietness, comes to me like sex, wild hum in the lost arid air” caught me off guard and I doubled-back to make sure I read the opening line correctly. I did and it is perfect in every way. The ending lines are as follows: “Cities often collapse while searching another one, and here is my tombstone, polished gold grave, beneath twigs of moth.” I read those lines and I know what poetry is. I feel what poetry is. I will remember what poetry is.

Crimson Skins comes as no shocker to me with its high caliber of writing and a plethora of poems and prose to choose from on which to connect. Devika Mathur shows that she is no novice to the world of writing. I look forward to its debut in June of 2020 and will be one of the first to purchase my copy. If you are a lover of poetry and writing that seeps into your skin and rattles your bones, then you should too.

I will be purchasing the Kindle version before the weekend is out, however, I also am going to purchase the paperback version when it is available too. I had the grand opportunity of diving into this work of art prior to its publication and I assure you, it’s worth every accolade it will amass within the first few weeks. Let’s support a fellow WordPress writer, shall we?

Featured Writer for June

Melinda A. Smith burst onto the scene in A Cornered Gurl on May 15, 2020, with A Thousand Arrows which is doing quite well in the publication. Since then, she has been a woman who is sounding off superbly. Her second piece, Hands and Railroads and Rage is an audio poem with a gut-punch that won’t let up and hits the reader incredibly hard. Even with its power and its important subject matter of inequality and social injustice, it is Navy Blue–the rhythmic, lyrical flow of a prose-poem, that has landed her this feature. Her presence in ACG is a profound one and I am happy to have her there. And now, the featured piece.


Navy Blue

The color of burning is not red

Photo by Adrien Ledoux on Unsplash

Homebound your mind comes round to thoughts of me, you entertain. Like rain you let me wash your skin, you let me in, you read my words and sully them with thoughts of sin. Did you ever think that I’m trapped, too? Sure enough, in different ways than you, I suffer, go through days lined with navy blue.

Take your language full of lovely words that border on offensive, absurd, take them like the flowers that wilt beneath the early hours of clocks that give us nothing now but time. You seek out the sublime. Stuck in the life you chose. In me, you see poetry. In you, I see prose. And God himself only knows or is it your whore of a muse? The one you caress, turn around, and abuse. Nothing to live for, nothing to lose. Only those weeping eyelids and navy blues.

But you didn’t count on one small thing, the silence and the songs I sing, the fight I have learned how to bring, it adds up to more than your petty lust. Of phoenix ash and blood that’s dried to dust, of lava seeping forth from crust, of bile and acid awash with shoulds and musts, I’ve seen it all and swallowed them whole. I’ll win here, too, for I have tasted the likes of you, these stringy pieces of tendinous sinew, I’ll pick them from my teeth to chew and face you in a way you never knew. For nothing spurs me more than navy blue.

Mistake not this smile for acceptance or feelings returned. Your vile words may try to burn, I let them for awhile, but now I’ve learned and I’ll fence you off from this red heart. These phrases that cut are just the start. With paintbrush or machete, I’ll construct my art, in pigment or in blood, I’ll create or tear apart. If you’d like, I’ll break it down to the science behind it. If I move too fast, I can explain and rewind it. Buried in me, you’ll always find it — this protective layer of fight or flight.

It’s in us all, nature’s Darwinian call. Preserve the species, one and all, and my cells will follow this creed. They heed, they need, when called upon, they bleed. Trillions of them, as if they always knew. One by one, they’ll turn on you, too. With a tide of physiological anger like you never knew. And I’ll be here, never bothered by the paths you steer, instead turned away from you dreaming, always dreaming of navy blue.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Young Minds of Medium Featured Piece #3

Subodhini Vignesh (Subo)  is a young one I am happy to have in A Cornered Gurl. She is encouraging, strong-willed, open-minded, and takes on a challenge like it’s second nature to her. She recently turned sixteen years old and the second way she decided to respond to the Young Minds of Medium What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic call was to write about how she experienced her birthday this year. Her first submission was just as detailed and definitely a gut-punch, but this piece truly touched my heart as I read it. I give you, “My Sweet Sixteenth Birthday . . .”


My Sweet Sixteenth Birthday

Young Minds of Medium Missed Things Call

My Birthday Cake ❤|Photo credit: Author’s Dad

A few days ago, I found myself sobbing under my covers at night, with the rest of my family in a deep slumber. Until that moment, I hadn’t felt dejected for not being able to celebrate my 16th birthday with all my close friends and family. I felt a little lonely, but this wasn’t only because of the future physical absence of my friends on my special day; this would be the last birthday I’d be celebrating in India before shifting to another country, and my friends wouldn’t be there. They would forget me soon anyway, might as well celebrate what had once been- the celebration of the end of years of friendship and memories.

When I woke up the next morning, 15th May, I no longer felt the sadness that had fueled my tears; instead, I felt stupid and a bit embarrassed to take responsibility for the thoughts that had clouded my more rational reasoning. My friends would never forget me, even if I’m 1000s of kilometres away. So what if they are absent for a little cake cutting? There are still so many memories of them I can hang on to. It isn’t really their fault they can’t come — it’s beyond any of our control. It’s okay to feel bad for their absence — it’s human.

Out of sight, but not out of mind.


As of 15th May, I had zero expectations for my birthday — that is what my parents and my brother had fooled me into believing. I’m generally good at putting pieces together, so hiding something from me isn’t a piece of cake; it turns out, they hid an entire cake. That night, my parents, my brother, and I were watching a 1980s Rajinikanth movie — it being a reason to keep me up till 12 o’clock.

May 16, 2020- The Birthday

When the clock struck twelve, all my friends and family stood at my doorstep ready to wish me a happy birthday, and the beautiful blue dress my fairy godmother had gifted me turned into my rags, leaving me with only one glass slipper. Nah, not really.

My brother and my parents gave me the gifts they had secretly brought home, and all of them sang the happy birthday song at the top of their lungs. I was awestruck, to add to this, several of my relatives and buddies had swarmed my landline and Whatsapp with their wishes and love.

I had expected them to forget my birthday, yet they had won my heart with all their love.

I woke up to a video my friends had curated; it began with a picture of me in a ridiculous pose and sunglasses and then a series of pictures where each of them held an alphabet to spell “Happy Bday”. I was delighted and a bit surprised because, to be honest, for the last three months I hadn’t had a proper conversation with many of the girls — except maybe some Whatsapp “Gm’s” and “Bye’s.”

One of the most significant moments of the day was by one of my best friends. She had created an entire card and left me a long beautiful message which got me to smile so much that my jaw hurt. She and I were going to take completely different paths in our lives, and our personalities don’t really coincide, yet we are thick as thieves. I have always known that even if we end up in different parts of the planet we’d never lose touch. The gift of sweet words she had given me a pleasant reminder of our togetherness and friendship which will last forever.

She’d be amongst the ones I will miss the most, but never forget.

In the evening, I cut a delicious cake my parents had smuggled home. I was courted by my grandparents, cousins, and best friends singing the birthday song through video conference.

Throughout the entire day, I felt special and a little spoiled — a break from my scheduled day.

For me, my birthday was a refreshing reminder that everything will be fine soon, and until then, we are in this together.


I am not forgotten, I am loved — this is all I needed to know.


Stay Home. Stay Safe.
Have Hope.


Author’s Note: I would like to apologise to those who believe that, in this period where several are losing lives, I shouldn’t babble about something as childish as a birthday. This is a tough time for all of us, even me, and I wish to share the little insignificant moments that make my life more joyous. Through this pandemic, we all have different problems with varying magnitudes; each a story unique to the individual. This is part of my story.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Young Minds of Medium Featured Piece #2

Our second challenge of the year for the Young Minds of Medium was themed: What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic? The young ones came through as they always do and I wish to feature a few from that challenge. This post focuses on the second featured piece which is from one of our most recent contributors added to A Cornered Gurl.

Bebongchu Atemkeng is a twenty-year-old young man unafraid to share his thoughts, feelings, and heart’s work with us. He is a regular in our A Cornered Gurl Six-Word Story Challenge hosted every Sunday and he encourages others by reading their work and responding. He is a joy to have in the publication and I am happy he’s around. His piece, Two Sides of Silence hits straight to the heart of the matter and leaves the reader feeling connected and (un)alone. Everyone, encourage his heart. I am hoping I’ll have him in YMOM for the next five years. He brings such a bright light to our community and I am sure you will feel it as you read his piece.


Two Sides of Silence

Young Minds of Medium Missed Things Call

Feeding goat|Photo by author

I miss the solace within these walls; the peace and quietude that used to reign here was one of quintessence. Those nights with just me, my book and pen, and a warm cup of tea at my study table were truly special. The sight of my bed neatly made up after a long and tiring day at work was enough reason to still find happiness and courage to carry on in a world that drains you of more than it gives; the bed didn’t complicate life—it only demanded that you lay down and rest in its embrace, satisfied to have satisfied you. I miss that comforting silence.

Within this space, I was free to be me. It was just me but I didn’t feel alone—I felt at home. I was free to dream and to explore my being. I discovered the things that made me happy, that sparked that zealous fire in my bones. Writing is one of them. The words always seemed to come easy then. Writing out my truth, I wasn’t scared of the prejudices of the world. It was just me and mini-me writing our souls out hoping that it inspired someone, somewhere, somehow to break the chains holding them down and to live out this passing existence free as the blowing wind—at peace with self and with the world. The tranquility was my source of healing.

That was a different time, a different world; that was six months ago when the world was still sane. The confinement within these walls doesn’t feel all that blissful anymore. Now, a different silence seems to beckon from beyond, from the most unexpected of places, telling of a peace I had but failed to see. The solitude is poisoning; the silence, deafening.

With all the time I have to myself now, I seem to be doing nothing. The bed has grown weary from carrying my weight; she doesn’t say so, but I know. Mini-me keeps reminding me of all that I said I’d achieve during this quarantine but haven’t started. He reminds me of the books I wanted to read—Chimamanda Ngozi’s Purple Hibiscus; Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God; Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas. He reminds me of a zeal grown cold. The stories I have not written haunt me—I want to tell them but the words don’t come easy anymore. WhatsApp has had its fair share of uninstalling and reinstalling. As I fall deeper into this lonely void, I wonder if this place ever really made me happy. Where is that harmony I once shared with life?

Now I realize that there was order in the chaos, poetry in the pain, music in the noise, comfort on another shoulder, and lessons to learn from the mishaps of life. Isolated from the rest of humanity, I am nothing more than walking flesh and bones; my room was never enough of a world. Within the walls of honking cars, boring lectures, singing birds, dancing children, open skies, swaying leaves, humming bees, feeding ruminants, and busy humans is a serenity of its own, a silence more profound. Now I know it was from all these that I found the inspiration to write and the courage to live.

I miss my friends. I miss the long, warm hugs and brotherly handshakes, the heartwarming smiles we shared over a plate of hot fufu and eru, the toasts we raised our glasses to, and the wishes we made over fine wine that our good God would bless us with happier days. I hope that he’s still listening.

What is left of me is emptiness and restlessness. There was an existential equilibrium I failed to appreciate: that between my world and the world. One cannot be beautiful without the other. The interweaving of the two strings produced the sweet symphony of life. I believe that better days lie ahead; I believe that after this pandemic, we would be more grateful for the opportunity to still be alive.

I miss the balance between the two sides of silence.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Featured Poem of the Week

Deb Ewing landed on Medium this past month and she has been lighting the platform up ever since! When she reached out to me to become a writer for A Cornered Gurl, I was beside myself with glee for I had been following her on Twitter. When I say this woman is a fireball, trust & believe she is that. Her writing shows no fear: it is raw and intense. I want nothing more than to read her writing over and over again. I am glad I get to be one of her editors.

The piece that lands her the feature for this week is her second contribution to ACG and it is aptly titled, “hate speech.” Not only is she an incredible writer, but she is also a visual artist. The artwork you see accompanying her poem is hers. You will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.


hate speech

you don’t see the cavity right away

Tongues, art by debora Ewing

you don’t see the cavity
right away

it slips between etiquette
and camaraderie
testing the atmosphere

where allowed, it swells
into a sandwich, eaten
by those craving sustenance

but the comfort of bread
only soaks up the serum
leaking out from what
might have been
meat

it crawls up the gullet
takes a life of its own
proclaims smiling

You Let This Happen

and you did.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.