Motherless


1.


my biggest fear is that we burned you alive

and the heart they handed me—


tied in a muslin—was still beating

I can’t fathom what it means


you gone—for you to be gone

I have to be gone


it is different to be with the dead

than the dying, did you know?


I was the one who pulled out scissors to chop off

your clothes and the sticky smell of your death


I took pictures wearing a sheer kurta

I can’t trust memory—


it keeps deceiving

tasteless, the relatives said, this is a cremation


but I was too vulgar to be comforted



2.


I can’t seem to throw anything of yours away—

rags, broken necklace clasps, handwritten grocery lists


saris fraying at folds—my friend says artists manufacture drama

to find meaning in the minutest of experiences


why do people say callous things when you lose someone

or do they always say such things



3.


we have new names

Papa is a widower

I am a motherless child

you, Ma, are simply gone

and I am not allowed to call you a traitor



4.


it is the smell of you—

earth after rain, spicy sweet incense

wet flour and cumin crusting on hands from making rotis

and that steady voice—

beta, bahut der ho gai, ab kuch karo

do something


and I don’t—again and again and again



5.


In the mirror—my pupils freeze,

my chin locks, teeth grind shut

a trickle of blood crusts just above the lip

it is a dead woman’s face



6.


I take a sip of water

pour some for you on the ground


take another

sip—hours, days, and years—


you don’t meet my daughter, my husband

don’t thumb through my book, don’t cradle my head in your lap—


the glass goes empty, full, empty and full

and what I have to say


does not end

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