In ways so delicate and calculated, Washed Away (Alien Buddha Press) by Shiksha Dheda is a devastatingly honest, poetic account of mental illness. The collection of poems happens in three thematic parts. The poems vary in length and subject matter, but disorder and cleanliness are the overall themes interwoven so strategically throughout the book.
The poems in Washed Away are deeply personal in their portrayal of struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression. The speaker of each poem never crosses emotional boundaries or attempts to trick the reader; rather, through clear imagery and honest tone, she establishes a sense of trust with the reader that brings us closer to the poetry. In one of my favorite poems in the collections, “The Invisible Burden,” Dheda brings us into the world view of those struggling with hidden illnesses and disabilities.
“But you don’t look ill”,
As my body physically tires
– rots away-
from the growing shadows; feeding the fungus of
sickening thoughts in my mind.” (45)
The title “Washed Away” is a testament to the desire to be free of mental illness as much as it speaks to the COVID-19 pandemic for which the book is dedicated; we can see this further in the powerful imagery and Dheda’s unique poetic voice. In the poem “Endings” she writes, “take these pieces of broken glass and make an uncommon vase” (58). Dheda holds this delicate topic of mental health in her hands, and as she imagines in those words, she not only takes broken pieces and produces something beautiful, but she helps us believe that we can do the same.
Shiksha Dheda pulls us into the real-time, real-world struggles of mental health and our shared anguish amid times of such uncertainty. Each poem is a subtle reminder that those who experience mental illness are not alone. Even if we “haven’t touched another person in months” or “haven’t held another body in years” –– if we have “forgotten how to” there is a community found in these words and in people with a shared experience (From “Failure” p.49). Washed Away is such a timely collection that, even in poems of grief and desperation, it offers a promise of hope to readers. I will forever remember the poignant, honest tone Shiksha Dheda has brought into new poetry, and I have a feeling that after reading her work, you will too.
Caitie L. Young (they/she) is a poet and fiction writer in Kent, Ohio. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Scapegoat Review, the Minnesota Review, the Santa Fe Writers Project, and others. Caitie’s work is concerned with generational trauma, politics, and queer and transgender issues. They are studying creative writing in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program (NEOMFA).