Aditi Machado’s collection Emporium is very timely in its mix of isolation and worldly discovery. As we turn these pages, we follow a merchant who seems at once lost and found on her journey, selling, buying, and trading, and in the end we may be unsure how much has been given up, gained, and what it was all worth. Reminiscent of a modern “silk route” system, this navigation of commerce and capitalism asserts its place in each corner of the world.
The year 2020 likely hasn’t brought much travel for many people, so these poems provide an insight into the wandering life from home. Full of the sounds of accents and violins, we can imagine street performers and crowds flowing along like wind and sea, picture the busy “clusterfuck” almost like a musical. With some distance to our desire, it becomes easier to open our eyes to our materialistic natures, the force of consumerism. We see ourselves in beautiful marketplaces, sweetness and light tangled together, trading and haggling with a rewarding push and pull – sometimes enchanted into buying something luxurious that we don’t need, but feel the need to hold onto.
“and the things that carry me back / do not carry me back whole.”
Sometimes we tear into things with “not a sadistic violence but the violence of trying to understand it,” and sometimes we ignore things without trying to understand at all. Too often, financial transactions remind us of the extremes of excess and poverty, but this is often brushed aside. We can be influenced just as easily by glamorous billboards as we can by ads of starving children. Our actions can be intentional, but more often they are whims, and we must be aware of what we express or exploit with the seemingly simple act of making a purchase or swap. We must think about what we put our hard-earned money into.
What if we could trade ourselves for another, or for something? Machado’s poems inspire the broad introspective process of analyzing what we believe has the most value in the world, what piece of ourselves would we be willing to exchange in order to have something else instead. We show in our expressions all of our emotions, our envy and trepidation, and our terror might be of being whole, not fragmented – “and the things that carry me back / do not carry me back whole.” What would be left for us, if we had everything, and could not think of anything else we would want to change? Is there such a thing as perfection, or at least an end to wanting?
With everything we buy or sell, every carefully constructed monetary moment we take part in, there is an absence and presence inside us that grows. There is something about our entire life experience that is changing, as our surroundings and resources influence us. Machado’s poems certainly celebrate the diversity of all there is to see and sense in the world, but they also warn us against the corruption that certain profits and gains can bring. It is the essence of mercantilism to keep things changing hands; but we need to consider which hands which things end up in, and the responsibility of ownership.
Machado weaves together the financial, social and political in this poetic traipse through the market. She encourages us to meditate on our own livelihood and purchasing patterns, to think about what truly benefits us in our survival. These poems ask deep questions rooted in worth – what is comfort worth, what is money worth? What is monetizable, and what should or should not be? Where are our coins, and our happiness, going when we buy something? Whatever answers we find have both individual and global importance.
Keep up with Aditi Machado’s important news on her website www.aditimachado.com and on Twitter @aditimachado.
(Nightboat Books, October 2020)
BETHANY MARY has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.