Introduction by Neil Gaiman

Playing with genre and form, this poetry collection evokes a fantastical dream world as myth intersects with reality in verse. Themes of role reversal, shape-shifting, and gender-bending occur throughout, giving a feminist edge to this collection of poems replete with dark humor—as well as an unexpected ending. Whether running with the wolves, or sleeping with them, the poet uses sly words to turn everyday conventions inside out.

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The Animal Bridegroom is a wonderful showcase for Sandra Kasturi’s work—she has a lot to say and hundreds of ways to say it. Filled with poetry of sheer, spinning invention and genuine passion, none of it comfortable or conventional, this long-awaited book is a genuine pleasure to read.”
—Peter Straub

“In ‘Gaslight Elegy,’ Sandra Kasturi decrys ‘a future too bright and rational/ for planchette and table-rapping/ . . . tales told not by glorious idiots/ but by scientists/ full of terrible reason.” Ironic, for under their whimsical surfaces, the poems in The Animal Bridegroom reveal a depth of subjective emotional experience (and thus reality) rarely found in poems that focus too sharply on the everyday. Consider the degree of entertainment in ‘Carnaval Perpetuel’ while it simultaneously reveals the poet’s impatience with all the primping and preening men and women do to impress each other. Compare it to the tale told in “Berry Picking with Jane” and the perspective widens out to longing for unpredictable experience and, as in other poems, the dangers associated with freedom. Some poems are more direct, such as the excellent classic style of ‘The Unbinding of Spirits,’ but taken together this is not a book for those who believe the creative enterprise is solely about creating an intellectual work for easy consumption. The Animal Bridegroom is to be reveled in as though you were wandering in a zoo of the most outlandish creatures, stopping often to watch and wonder at their strange behaviour.”
—Adam Getty, author of Reconciliation

“Sandra Kasturi’s magical poems transform the ordinary into the surreal and exotic.”
—Phyllis Gotlieb, author of Birthstones


The Burning Woman

You can hear her pale voice
from within the conflagration.
It always speaks truth.
It always lies.
She crackles like marrow-bone
when she walks.
Her eyes and mouth open
and burn like magnesium.
She is a contrary Gorgon;
everything she looks at
is forced into frenzied life.
If you are very lucky
and can run after her
until she catches you,
you can put her in a canning jar
to hold in the air:

a blaze of fireflies
to light the darkness.

Chaos Theory

The way through the forest
is walked by shapeshifters
and wolves who suffer from indigestion,
having eaten too many grandmothers.

You may find a coterie of little men
occasional princes
and some sleepy guy with the head of an ass.

At any given moment
the path may twitch
(you can only enter the forest
by exiting the forest).

If you leave a trail of breadcrumbs
they will only be eaten (with Camembert)
during the cocktail hour.

The way through the forest
is danced by wild girls with sharp teeth
who throw streams of frantically beating butterflies
into the air.

There are hulder maidens with cow-tails
and twelve-headed troll kings
who peer slyly from their caves
and from between the trees.

If you ask them for directions
you will merely be deboned
like a chicken
and made into soup.

The way through the forest
is always bargained for
(payment is in salt).

If you are ever asked to supper
by a Court of exquisitely fair beings
seat yourself
smile politely
remember not to eat or drink
anything and take your leave
as soon as possible.

The way through the forest
is always a pattern
and forever random.

(You must look before you leap
You must look before you look.)

There are helpers in the forest:
giant caterpillars who smoke too much,
tin men,
delusional old crones
who aren’t really old crones at all
trees that preen and mutter to themselves
in the wind.

If you forsake the forest
it will follow you
surround you
permeate you
though you may not recognize it
(you can’t see the forest for the trees
you can’t see the trees for the forest).

The way through the forest
is sometimes crossed suddenly
by the White Stag
who will give you your heart’s desire
if you catch him.

Your heart’s desire is to leave the forest
No one ever catches the White Stag.

There is no way through the forest.

Frankenstein’s Monster’s Wife’s Therapist

She tells me she’s happy now.
They’ve reconciled. He spends
most evenings at home
and they’ve started to try
to make babies: he bringing
their limbs home, she
with her size 10 sewing needle.

(Rhysling Award nominee, Short Poem category, 2006)

Old Men, Smoking

You can see them standing singly or in clusters on street corners
Or sitting, calm as toads, in quaint but seedy coffee bars,

These old men who smoke and don’t speak English.
They stare into the distance, seeing the drowning

Of the Titanic, the Lusitania, some obscure Estonian ferry,
Experiencing the wash of history. It leaves them clean,

Weathered, their eyes turned that strangest of blues by the sea,
The wind, the turning of years. These old men who smoke

And don’t speak English—they know all the secrets of the universe,
Revealed to them in each glowing ember that flies away

From their mouths into the world. These old men—descendants
Of Prometheus, who, having stolen fire, passed it down through the ages

To old men who never grow older or die. They are immune
To cancer, to weather, to the voices of women. They simply smoke,

Cast embers into air, into history, mutter in foreign tongues
No matter what country they are in. These men with their gnarled

Gardeners’ hands never really smile, never really see you,
But you know them, know them from past incarnations,

From memory, from myth. Maybe they do smile, inwardly, secretly,
At our mad scurryings and busy bodies. Such guileless crocodiles!—

Sitting, steadying the tilting world; smoking, obscuring the truths
We cannot bear to know; humming in the voices of God.

(First Prize, ARC Poetry Magazine’s 10th Annual Poem of the Year Contest, 2005)

The Unbinding of Spirits

What frail spectres can we begin to conceive
out of darkened bedrooms and glass-blown pride?
Conjuring tongues and gin-chilled fingers relieve
us of our private hauntings, turn them inside
out upon the carpet. Can we not inspire
peace—not this hag-ridden, ghost-hackled perturb
of an existence? Give one thought to what dire
sorrows may come forth, what we may disturb?
Yet here is grief. I have been waylaid.
I am gone to frantic clutching, a raving
of words, braiding together things unsaid,
things imagined. Mourning’s bright weaving.
From my drowning bed, dragged by tides’ rebound,
my spectral words, pulled to depths where they unsound.