Flame, et al


Ek, do, theen, char, she counts, then lifts
Her eyes, smudged with black kohl and
Begins. The deep pink sari rustles
As she spins out, then in, smooth, bright
Tan arms open, then close. Her choli,
The small blouse, fits perfectly at her shoulders,
her chest, as she bends and weaves
through the small space. She hears music
In the tinkle of silver bangles at her wrists,
In the clink of tiny brass bells at her ankles.
Slide, turn, twirl. She glides, she burns,
She whirls. Her fingers twist, curl as
Crimson henna scorches her slender hands.
Her lips, rose-colored and delicate,
Mouth the name of each beat she moves:
Da Deen Deen Da, Na Teen Teen Na, Te Re Kete Ta,
Te Re Kete Ta, Te Re Kete Ta, Dhum!

Faster, faster she spins and her cheeks
Flush, warm, joyful. The neat folds
Of cloth at her calves come loose, strands of fine
Hair shake free from the long plait swung at
At her back, loose waves of gossamer coming
Undone. Her eyes, luscious brown, flash and
Shine in the dim room, lashes quivering. Sparks of gold
Gleam at the lobes of her ears, the crease of her nose as
Her figure, her body becomes a blur of
Limbs and cloth and gem and fire.

Watch, she is ancient yet young, a slow-burning
Pyre, a swift burst of inferno.
She is time herself, earth herself and
A quick gust of wind, a raging wave of sea.
Leaping, coiling, entwining all in her
splendor, the picture of imperfect grace.
Yes, she is fire incarnate,
A beautiful, tumbling
A dancing, spiraling

Country of Origin

First time I see it in eleven years
Wet , fat drops of water roll off the
Leaves of tall palm trees swaying
side to side. Cool gusts of wind direct them,
But it’s too humid. I sit and watch my
thoughts swim helplessly in the oddly visible air.
Alone on the hotel balcony, my hands do the same,
tracing ancient mudras through the atmosphere,
that one’s the shankh, this one the
mukula, wish I could do the kalesvara. After a while,
winded, I sprawl out on the floor. (It’s wet.)

After we get home (is this my home?) I touch their feet
aunts, uncles, cousins. They grab my hands,
hug, kiss, these who I remember as
shadows, loud voices on the phone (who are they?)
Younger cousins touch my feet, then slip
out of my hands, giggling, curious, the four strangers
standing at their doorstep. American, they whisper and
I listen to the voices in my mind asking me if this,
coming here, was a bad idea. (Was it?)

Visitors, friends, neighbors, relatives,
All awed, eager to learn about America
I get used to constant affection from aunts and
grand-aunts,teasing easygoing cousins, warm familiarity.
But then we come to the old, our country house
my grandfather built and my dad grew up in. Muddy,
thatched roof, surrounded by grandmother’s trees, areca nut,
mango, lemon, Burmese neighbors with wide grins,
Bear hugs, widows in white, wives in bright,
Swarms of mosquitoes (they’re ruthless.)

I wasn’t born here but conceived—mother pregnant (dangerously so)
As she stepped on the 24-hour flight, father anxious,
Brother scared but adventurous, fetus me probably
Wondering what was up with transatlantic flights these days—
Born American by two months. Two months later, and
A Bangladeshi passport. This is what I think of
As we take the train to Sylhet, watching the fields
Of one motherland rush past, as thoughts of my other land
Crowd my mind. When my 3-year old niece asks me
how far America is from Bangladesh, I reply that they are
very close, because for me, a child of both and of neither,
perhaps they are.
(Country of Origin? Undecided.)


Sunday afternoon
They sit, the old grandmother
And the young girl,
In the sunlit attic. The
Grandmother passes a comb
Through the girl’s long,
Tousled hair, untangling by hand,
gently, when the knot is too thick.

She smoothes coconut oil, clear and
Glossy, over her granddaughter’s
Hair, for fragrance and for
Shine. The girl leans her head back,
Feels the warm hand on her scalp as
Yellow-leafed branches scrape
At the window.

The grandmother starts to speak, her deep,
Husky voice filling the room. She says,
Shathi, when your aunt, your pishi, was your age, she was
Already married but when she came to visit
I would untangle her hair like this, ei rokom kore.
We would sit, close the janlaa so the neighbors
Couldn’t see, and talk for hours as I combed
The hair she had no time to comb herself.
Then your uncle, pishebabu, would take her back,
Her hair braided and her face ujaal,

The girl listens to her grandmother,
thousands of miles away from
Her home, the grandmother
can only talk, her voice cracking,
of what used to be.

The girl takes her grandmother’s
Hand from her hair and places it
On her lips, makes her touch the words as
They emerge from her mouth:
Nanai, braid my hair, watch my face
Turn bright.

Midsummer Night

Pressed white jasmines,
My grandmother’s favorite
Adorn the pages of the Bhagavad Gita
That lies next to the carved shrine
In the attic. We have picked so many
From the garden that our hands,
Red and callused, are fragrant
With light and luminous
With scent.
The heaviness of your hand
In mine keeps me upright
Because in my mind I am
Lost amongst the colors that
You consist of. I don’t know
How I got here, trace the paths.
Oh, I don’t know
How you got here, follow the lines
On your palms, they criss-cross
Over olive skin, lighter than mine.
Heartbeats aligned, let heads tilt
Clasp the moment and hold it close.

Midsummer nights don’t end
The way other nights do.
No, midsummer night is that rare
Gift, warm and supple and smoky
Heavy-lidded and sweet-lipped
We contemplate
Glowing fireflies and
Deep violet roses as
The sun shoots streams of light
Upon us. I sigh,
And it echoes in
the spaces around us.
Shh, you say, listen to the dew.
And you run light fingers
Through my hair as
I do.

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