Book excerpt: Paper Asylum by Rochelle Potkar

Rochelle Potkar 2

Paper Asylum – Excerpt


Every time he read a book, burnt plastic, swatted an insect, or shot a bird for lunch, Jade was stamped right back.

He was hiking through the forest and stung by bees, he ran a cross-country race and was scarred by bush fire, he camped on a summit and was struck by lightning.

After discarding his mobile phones, TVs, computer, electronic appliances, when he camped in the woods of Thailand, he lost his way and had to eat camouflage plant that grew rashes all over his body. (Maybe he ate up its defences too.)

In the next wandering, he twirled in the Sri Lankan tsunami for eternity.

Even when he was done with nature, her fur and fury, her lengths, depths, girth, and breadth, he could count the marks she had given him: his flat, misshapen head, since his fall from the bed of his birth during an earthquake, his amputated toes from frostbite, the red-veined tattoo from a bolt on his arm that looked like an embedded tree about to rev up.

striped feline—
of our past lives

But nature’s fury was decreasing now. She was back-slapping him. The more he ate off a banana leaf, the more he recycled water, cycle-rode . . . she left him with trails of pollen-laden sneezes and minor infections.



Life after death is not about soul-recycling, incarnations. Before the soul pulls away to ether through the ten dimensions, the realms of knowledge to the feet of light, it leaves behind its old coat, jacket, garment in dirt, mud, grit. Glove slips from finger, ring from toe, tongue from cheek, energy from promises, love from hope, hope from memory.

In this dark abyss, cells emit CO2 in a stream like steam from a train, smoke from a chimney. It turns into glue what was once your beauty. Bacteria, fungi, microbes melt your nationality, colour of skin. Sulphur, freon, benzine, carbon tetrachloride evaporate your caste, creed, religion. Maggots, beetles eat your Easter flesh, identity. Bones divide protein into dust and your once-ago body breeds trees.

Then the soul sings in a mynah bird, a parakeet, a guava fruit seed, a Newton’s apple.

fading moon . . .
the head count ritual
of stolen children



About the book:

Paper Asylum is a book of 43 prose poems – mostly in the Japanese short poetry form: the haibun, published in May 2016 by Copper Coin Publishing.

The book is available on Amazon India.

About the author:

Rochelle Potkar is the alumna of Iowa’s International Writing Program, and Charles Wallace Writer’s fellowship, Stirling. She was the winner of the 2016 Open Road Review story contest for The leaves of the deodar. Her story Chit Mahal (The Enclave) appears in The Best of Asian Short Stories, Kitaab International. Her poem, The girl from Lal Bazaar was shortlisted for the Gregory O’ Donoghue International Poetry Prize, 2018. Her poem Place won an honorable mention at Asian Cha’s Auditory Cortex. Her poem Skirt has been adapted into a poetry film by Philippa Collie Cousins (UK) for the Visible Poetry Project 2018, USA. (



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