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To an Unknown Passenger

‘my hulled hands crash against the tide / to the unloved I will offer / a part of me / in hope my wards will be made complete / for another life’

By Phinder Dulai

In 1914, 376 Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu migrants from Punjab sailed to Vancouver, BC, aboard the Japanese steamship Komagata Maru with the hopes of immigrating to Canada. All passengers were British subjects, but they were denied entry upon arrival, forced instead to live on the docked vessel for two months while courts deliberated their fate and . In the end, the court decided to enforce racist exclusionary laws and sent the ship back to India. Phinder Dulai’s third poetry collection dream/arteries (Talonbooks, 2014) draws upon the Komagata Maru’s ship records as well as nautical maps, photos, and interviews to connect the story of those 376 passengers with our contemporary moment and with the way we look at the history of migration to the New World. Here, we publish three poems from the collection.


This Thursday, February 25, AAWW hosts a reading and conversation with Phinder Dulai and NourbeSe Philip, author of Zong!, widely considered one of the most significant experimental poetry books of the last decade. Reserve a seat here.



ten anonymous journeys
coal clouds and gulls hang steady in the wind
songs, scuffles, shuffles, screams, receipts

paper waves of mean
dream arteries surge seaward
pistons beat, engines screech
and a cacophonous wind thunders

barnacled black hulls slice and sluice out
through the streaming scheldt from antwerp

the port delivers the coal and cargo
erosions ripple over memory
slip the border
lost in the rip
of tide
they feed the loss
my body brims and bleeds into the thick air against the atlantic

sisters, brothers, cousins, and great ancestors pass in quiet
—————               masters schmidt and theiles
eye the violence in the waters
the flap clap wind shifts
a pattern
the deep distance, the long droning notes of my lungs

—————               we curl into the confluence of the labrador
breaking through contrarian waves

my hulled hands crash against the tide               —————
to the unloved I will offer
a part of me
in hope my wards will be made complete

for another life

while my indentured life escapes me

admire me then
do so when
this beauty subsides
when my name ages
do so when i transmute, shift my name
and become the ss komagata maru



subedhar, sub alt din, alter-sub-alt-in
sub alt urn

“Public opinion in this country will not tolerate immigration in any considerable number from Asiatic countries and that even more drastic measures and regulations will, if necessary, be provided in order to prevent any influx of Hindus.”

– Prime Minister Robert Border to
Hon. G.H. Perley, High Commissioner
to Great Britain, July 17, 1914


deep within my body, a yellow tongue licks the wall
the floor, the beds, and the cramped benches
and moves over the unloved who slumber each day

deep within my body a babe sniffles
drinking the nutrition out of her mother

deep within my body a young boy wonders …
his mother holds his hand tightly and weeps

deep within my body fauja singh dreams
of an ocean and scaling mountains

deep within my body a doctor coughs
seeing that his oath will mean nothing here
his educated fears seeking safety on all sides

deep within my body a doctor coughs
seeing that his oath will mean nothing here
his educated fears seeking safety on all sides

deep within my body, men become darkness itself
their smiles suffocate on barren stomachs

in the deep darkness where no one sleeps
fear and ignorance consume each other
and madness settles in
to sleep and love



investigative erasure
acted alone
not assisted
investigative leads, 300
interviews, more than 200
pieces of evidence
the results of its expansive investigation
no evidence was uncovered
no evidence to suggest
ongoing threat
the sikh community
the attack was part of any ongoing threat to the sikh community.”
to conclude this attack was … directed or facilitated by any white
supremacist group.
during the shooting at the temple, page exchanged gunfire with two
oak creek police officers seriously wounding one, before being shot by
another officer, then turning his weapon on himself.

a sikh temple in oak creek
police perspective on his motives consisted of four sentences
yet when the federal bureau of investigation announced why
wade michael page, 40, killed six people at
“the fbi investigation indicates that wade michael page acted alone and was not
assisted in committing this violent crime killing six and wounding four
other victims,” the fbi’s statement said in november



From dream/arteries by Phinder Dulai, © 2014 Phinder Dulai, Talon Books Ltd., Vancouver B.C. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.