Anyone who personally knows me will not be surprised by my next pick of a poet spotlight. Not surprised, because I talk about this woman all the time, and how everyone needs to buy, Useful Information for the Soon-to-be Beheaded. Shivani Mehta is a great prose poet. I’m not stretching the truth when I say she is my favorite prose poet. I see glimmers of those who have taught her in her work, Rick Burksy and Richard Garcia, but she has capitalized on what they taught and created her own voice that often mixes whimsy with pathos quite perfectly. Below I have chosen one of her prose poems to show you just how she does this, but to call her just a prose poet would be unfair, as she is a poet, without adjective.
Shivani is a mother, a wife, a friend, a former Lawyer, and an award-winning poet. If you ask me she deserves many, many more awards. There is just something so special about the woman who writes lines like Did you hear the night/aching around us?/You say it doesn’t matter/but I have known you since/my body was full of mourning/since before the sky. (From North American Review)
If I have one complaint it is that Shivani does not read out in public enough and when she does it’s far too short. Until she rectifies that take a read of the poems before and head over to Press 53 and buy her book Useful Information for the Soon-to-be-Beheaded.
Here is one of her recent and simply sublime prose poems from Wherewithal magazine.
One morning I wake to find I’ve turned into a bicycle. At work, people notice. They talk, the way people do. There is whispering in corridors as I wheel by, my pedals gleaming. I make out phrases like so much promise, and that’s what happens when. The upshot is, men find me irresistible, they cannot help riding me around the block, stroking my wheels, my derailleur, admiring the sleek line of my down shaft. How the other women envy me now, how I love to see myself reflected on the concave surface of their eyes. How they seek me out at office parties and ask for dating advice. And every Saturday morning a crowd of reporters gathers outside my apartment for a glimpse of my shiny titanium frame, my perfectly oiled chain.
And the poem that started my love of Shivani’s work, that I would have never found were it not for one Martin Ott‘s Writeliving site:
Useful Information for the Soon-to-be-Beheaded
The following is an excerpt from a pamphlet designed by the Commission on Public Severance, handed out to condemned individuals as they waited in line for their turn at the guillotine. Reproduced here with permission:
1. Close your eyes tightly so as not to get dizzy when your severed head falls off the executioner’s block and rolls across the wood platform, picking up splinters and human debris.
2. When you cease to feel movement, it is safe to open your eyes. Remain calm as you watch your body dragged off and stacked on a pile of headless bodies. Your head will be tossed or kicked into the basket of severed heads.
3. This is likely to be the last time you will see your body. Expect a period of adjustment to the separation. You may experience a lingering sensation of movement in limbs you no longer have. This will pass.
4. This is where your head will remain for whatever period of sentience it has left. Your vocal chords will not work. You might begin to feel a sense of freedom, of lightness, buoyancy, like a balloon that is suddenly untethered.
5. Think back to the day you were born, remember what it felt like the first time light fell across your closed eyelids, the weight of air on your forehead. Remember the last time you were born human, the sensation of trailing your fingers in a lake, cupping water in your hands. Or, think of the time you were a bird, remember stretching your wings, pushing against the wind, taking flight. Remember that it always ends this way.
 If the basket contains other heads, they will ease your transition. If your’s is the first head in an empty basket, try not to think about the abrupt separation from your body. Focus instead on the details of your new surroundings: the closely woven fibers of the basket in which your head lies, the checkered spaces between the weave where sunlight passes through, the intermingled scent of sweat, tears, blood that permeates the air.
 On average, severed heads retain approximately fourteen seconds of sentience. However, exceptions have been known to occur. It has been reported that some severed heads remain sentient for several hours, and in a few cases, for more than a day.