This second edition of Nomad of Salt and Hard Water is evidence of how language that is fixed, as in a traditional publication, or unmoored, as in this new and revised edition, is made up of malleable meaning. Over time our relationship to language changes. While Cynthia Dewi Oka’s thematic concerns—displacement and exile, the weight of identity and its inevitable fragmentation, and what she eloquently calls difficult beauty—remain, her language needs have shifted, and the resulting book is both ambitious and seemingly effortless. Because of course poems can adapt.
Nomad is Oka’s response to the conventions and commodifications of poetry; it is a search for a more resilient text. As she outlines in her introduction, when the original version of Nomad sold out, Oka saw it as an opportunity to “honor a longing for refuge with the audacity to set out again in search of its source” by reengaging with the original work. nomad of salt and hard water is an essential new book. It is what happens when a poet listens to her poems.
Starting with the redaction of Rilke’s verse, Cynthia Dewi Oka’s revision goes beyond a line here, a comma there. In the 2nd edition of Nomad, Oka places us in the middle of a textual journey, a reexamination of the self, a labor intensive that extends beyond any wage legislated by patriarchy and fake liberalism. Oka has revisited her body (of work) with an intentional force that reclaims our losses and a skin-shedding so necessary that it redefines poetry. The lyricism in Oka’s poetry is enough to spllit a canonical rock open. We should hear the reverberations of her craft (in constant motion) for years to come.
-Willie Perdomo, author of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon
Each line in Nomad of Salt and Hard Water is a careful, but definite step. These poems dream about the tension (and the reckoning) against colonialism and the post-apocalyptic, but there is a deep sensuality and wonder at what can be saved. Oka’s mythmaking creates a landscape that calls on nature, the power of women, and the idea of writing and rewriting on the palimpsest of the destroyed and those reclaiming their power. These poems occasionally cut and tenderly cradle. Imagine putting Nomad of Salt and Hard Water on the shelf with Cha’s Dictee and Audre Lorde, Barbara Jane Reyes, and Cathy Park Hong. Oka is a poet who calls for a close listening in these pages.
-Tara Betts, author of Arc & Hue
These poems are dazzling perceptive dream-songs strung out on a bridge crossing countries of land and ocean. They are built to hold loneliness, heartache, and the promise of happiness. These beautiful, intuitive poems are how language emerges in a faraway tongue, when it appears to have been left behind.
-Joy Harjo, poet, musician, truthteller
With poetic heritage in shell and myth, and descended from Walcott and Lorde, these poems eternalize seaside Indonesian culture, and meld myth with the everyday. Oka’s elemental lyric veers and lilts, renders the chaos of reality in the deliberate icons and felt lushness of dreams. The bravery of crossing out and rewriting not only history but one’s own story, understanding the mutability of a tale, establishes this poetry as an inquiry into the wildness of interiority. Monuments to family and diaspora appear here in a brocade that could only come from a “mind (that) is emerald remedy for abandonment”.
-Cynthia Arrieu-King, author of Manifest
In Cynthia Dewi Oka’s poems, I hear Rukeyser’s meditation, “Ends of the earth join tonight.” Oka, in this remarkable revision of her first book, redraws not only global geographies, but deeply personal and metaphysical ones. The official map’s mandates no longer apply. Just when you think the legends make sense, a nomad like Oka comes along to re-inscribe the lines.
-Patrick Rosal, author of Boneshepards
In the second edition of Nomad of Salt and Hard Water, Cynthia Dewi Oka’s rewrite is not just a re-vision but a ruthless delve into the essential elements that are the building blocks of our histories–from the crust of the earth, to the suppleness of our hearts. Her poems are maps which plot a natural world disrupted by unnatural dominations. Her lens reflects the intricacies of our evolutions and her language realigns the details providing a perspective that makes each poem its own complicated body. The veins are pipelined with love, compassion, a love of justice, of land, of family and of course, of poetry. The unflinching beauty of the first edition is embellished by shimmer of her intent voice which guides to not only read these poems, but to also meditate on each word, line and verse.
-Elmaz Abinader, author of This House, My Bones
Cynthia Dewi Oka’s nomadic poetry migrates across Indonesia, Canada, and the United States, witnessing “the unbearable with the light.” The unbearable signals the trauma of displacement, war, racism, violence, colonialism, and empire; conversely, the light heralds love, family, home, memory, and the natural world. Nomad of Salt and Hard Water shows that poetry is “born without sanctuary,” “beats its wings / against history” and waits “replete with all that cannot be saved.” This compelling and revised edition speaks to women of color, migrants, survivors, mothers, laborers–all of us–to say: “you are stronger than / the ruins you carry, that salvage is not your / body.”
-Craig Santos Perez, author of from unincorporated territory [saina]