Rise, et al

Rise

Wait
But don’t watch
As they wheel your husband in,
Emaciated legs exposed
Under pale blue gown.
His arms, once muscular,
Now skeletal, grip edges
Of the gurney, as his chest
Heaves against the straps,
Ribs jutting out from under
thin cloth.

Shudder
When they call you in and
You see him, his eyelids quivering as,
His life flickers in, out, in, out.
Each gasping breath he takes
Hits you like a blow to the chest
Stronger and stronger, till you
Are gasping too.

Slowly,
The breaths grow less frequent,
More sluggish, listless.
Your mother comes in,
Followed by your children.
Daughter, youngest,
Runs to you, pulls on unmoving
Hand as Son, middle, whimpers
In fear. Daughter, eldest, only looks
At her father, never
at you.

Final, trembling
Breath drawn through
Plastic mask. At the last
Moment, his eyes open wide,
Pupils dilated, and you feel them
Glinting at you under cold,
Fluorescent light. Inhale, exhale,
Inhale, exhale until it stops.
He dies. No last touch, no
last words.

At home,
Sit immobile as your mother
Cries, holding the children,
Then recovers to feed, bathe,
Put them to sleep.
When the old woman tries
to rouse you, scream
Once, long and anguished.
Daughter, youngest, wakes,
starts to sob, and Son,
middle, stirs in fitful sleep.
Daughter, eldest, clenches
Fists and turns
Away.

Days pass,
Funeral, last rites, cremation.
As wife, hold
Flaming torch to body,
Watch flesh crumble into ash.
Later, wipe bridal vermilion
Off forehead, tear clothing,
Piece by piece, in exchange
For new white sari.
In India, white–blank,
Empty, nothingness, is the
color of death.

Hair unbound, eyes
streaked with red, lie
Still, think only of him,
as your wearied mother opens
letters from relatives.
Daughter, youngest, brings
Crayon drawings to show you, Son,
Middle, gets first place in
Essay contest. Daughter,
Eldest? She avoids you until
The day she hears jeers in
School about her crazy,
Widowed mother.

Then, fury spills
over and she storms into your
room, shouting words you try
Not to hear. Unable
To stop, she grips your
Shoulders and shakes you,
Staring into your eyes,
Desperate, seeking
An answer.

Surprise seeps
Into You as Your feet touch
The ground and Your hands
Grasp hers. You feel
Your heart quicken and start as
You return to yourself, You
Meet life anew, You—
Rise.



Muse

His hands, callused and red, beat
The drums in tandem, each stroke
Reverberating in the empty room.
Blood rushes to his fingertips as
His forehead furrowed, intense
Concentration, the pulse of his hands
Molds into the rough canvas
Stretched tight, wooden poles.
To him, the rhythm speaks
Of past generations of young men
With his blood, his kin. In the empty
Room, he hears their hands and hearts
Pound unseen drums alongside him,
A cacophony in the quiet.

~~~

Her voice, honey sweet, rises up
As her fingers press upon keys
Of ivory and ebony, weave a
Tapestry of tinkling notes.
She draws breath sharply, silently,
Chest expanding, grasping and
Holding the precious air.
The husky tones intermingle
Gently with the clinking
Cadence her hands create.
To her, the solitude is enough, she
Needs nothing more.
No audience, no others, just this
Single, sweeping melody
To keep her alive.

~~~

Years later, they will meet
Understand their common muse
At first glance. Friendship will
Occur, then attraction, love,
A life together. And one day,
her hands will cup a small
swelling of life, a girl,
Who will crave that muse
All her life. She will hear it
In the noise of the streets,
The rhythym of the rain,
The rush of the wind.

And it will follow her
In the strum of strings,
The beat of drums,
The clink of keys.

In the rise and fall
Of a single voice.



Kleptomaniac

We walk, cold biting our exposed
Fingertips. Her icy hand
Pulls me roughly forward, my small
Feet struggling to catch up. We pass
Closed storefronts and grimy condos,
Past the known and into another,
Gray neighborhood. My young eyes
Take in empty streets, strange men
Staggering, clutching bottles, the lost
Look in their eyes mirroring my own.
She had arrived, this woman whose
Sharp nails dig into my palms,
Three weeks ago on our doorstep.
No relation, no friend of my parents,
Just a young woman with beady
Black eyes, bad teeth, and two red suitcases.
But she was Bengali, a link to my
Parents’ past. Of course
She could stay, cram her bags and
Body into our small apartment,
Our simple life.

Timid at first, she had slowly grown
Bold, gleeful boasts to my mother,
Threats with her hands to my brother
And I. But generosity prevailed
And she had to stay. In those days,
None of us noticed the small things
She took, toys and bills and trinkets.
It was only after that
We saw.

That morning, she woke me at dawn,
Shaking me awake as the others
Slept. She dressed me quickly,
Without breakfast, and stole us
Out of the house.
Shathi, let’s go on an adventure,
Okay? But don’t wake your parents.
It’s a surprise.

And now I stumble blindly
Behind her, fatigue shooting through
My stubby legs. We stop
At a large, 24-hour market and enter.
I follow her as she sweeps by the
Aisles, stopping occasionally
To examine some small thing.
Finally, she buys a bottle of lotion.
As we turn to go, the cashier
Calls out and once again
We stop.

Ma’am, he says, I’m afraid I have
To ask you to turn out your pockets.
I watch, growing confusion as she
Shakes her head, one tight motion.
He asks again, more forcefully,
And now she does, taking out
A tube of lipstick, a small hairbrush,
Three pairs of earrings. Another
Salesman comes, pins her down
As the first talks into a phone.

When they arrive,
Blue-uniformed men, they circle her
And yell words at each other, gruff
Intonations I don’t understand. One
Of them turns to me, gives me a
Helium balloon that says
Holiday’s Greetings! and a red lollipop
And sits me down.
I grip my lollipop, clench my
Little fists, wait in silence.

When they take her away,
She is screaming, her face red
And tears streaking down her
Cheeks. At the last moment,
She catches my eye, stares
Wretched. I stare back
until my parents arrive,
smother me with worried
words and embraces.
But that moment of fear,
I never forget.



Roses

wine-red
they once bled into her hair, those
roses
now gone, having returned the
dust unto dust, air unto air

Amrita Chakraborty
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School
Silver Key

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