“Teeth and Mouth”
We clambered up thin trees
laden with fat fruit,
juices dribbling down our chins,
our whole summer taken up with eating,
with sharp teeth biting into sharp sweetness,
with spending the days in the canopy,
With shivering at snake skins
littering the jungle floor.
And marveling at the shyness of flowers,
almost in bloom.
Eating rice off banana leaves,
pretending to be married to maharajas.
Gorging ourselves on hot sun, and
the coolness of the silvery pond,
slipping so silently into it like we were minnows,
immersed in brash and stinging waters.
We stole guavas like they held the universe
in their candied core,
our hungry hearts yearning and devouring.
And then came the rains,
and the parched earth was black and rich,
so saturated and satisfied. Miraculous fertility,
the monsoons a vengeful love goddess that swallowed the earth,
furious and devastating, her roar signaling black calamity.
Everything floated away.
Our village and our trees and the snakes and the jungle flowers.
We held on to the raft our brother made,
and ached for the ripeness of fruit.
I wish I knew Kathak.
Or Bharatnatyam, or Orissa, or
any other mysterious dance from that far-off
balmy tiger country my mother once dwelt in.
I would shed this awkward unsure teenage body,
and become music, or a goddess.
These limbs of mine would be elemental,
fire and ice, melody,
my long fingers forming running deer and
sleeping lions—feet keeping primitive rhythm
body twisting and coiling, leaping and
crashing—I become thunderous beauty.
Eyes like cool water, heart moving to
drums, flute, sitar.
Lone dancer on the stage, taut clean lines,
bendsome grace, fluidity,
forming and collapsing, like
the timeless love story I am enacting;
(a second dancer has entered)
me, the bashful young girl with water skins
he, the bold deity, carrying bow and arrows.
Dancing around each other and into each other
overcome by drums, flute, sitar,
this frenzied beat,
two beautiful and divine forms
moving to the rhythm of creation.
I wish I knew Kathak.
“Chasing the Moon”
It is deep, narrow night
and you are wandering these rusted city streets,
marooned on an island of absolute stillness.
You are slinking along these groaning alleys like
shadow kissing shadow in the blossoming night,
wondering at the moon, her sorrow and her pride.
And you can tell she is taking off her shimmering bangles—
Her quicksilver laugh and her star-spangled veil, those eyes
lined with kohl, that smile like a running river
compelling those who are lost at heart to follow her down
this cracked cement
on this mystical and radiant night. And you are
unwinding tangled and beautiful knots
that manage to remain tangled and beautiful,
laughing at the unexplainable.
You are falling into silver mirrors
and swimming in weeping lakes,
because the city is suddenly pulsing, electric, beating and breathing. You are
chasing the moon, slipping on mosaics and dancing and spinning
like a top until
this starry night is so brimming
that you forget all other starry nights,
caught in moon-love-life-sickness like a spider
in a sticky web.
I drowned at 7,
my body submerged in that mysterious and murky world
until panic became blessed acceptance,
my lungs ceasing to struggle, until I felt as though
I were soaring, not sinking.
I had a moment of knowing death,
of feeling complete and remote in this realm suddenly
rendered unearthly and terrifying. But then
my mother hauled me out
and I was back in the land of the living, my ears
burning from her sharp scolding,
my heart thudding frantically and erratically
but also singing,
because I suddenly tasted sweetness
where there had been none.
Freshman year, I stood shivering in the pool
(in the winter, no heat)
and tried to overcome my fears. But some
things are too deeply rooted, drinking
freely from our blood until there is no distinction
between self and phobia.
In the pool, I thrashed, I panicked,
my whole being in distress,
the icy waters closing over my head,
choking me, smothering me, starving me,
my eyes screwed so tight,
my body in complete rejection.
This body that has memories,
that remembers death and rebirth and the interim.
The smell of chlorine still makes me nauseous,
my throat convulsing and my eyes stinging—for months I breathed it,
carried it with me into dissections and discussions,
my hair still wet from the pool,
helpless and frustrated and full of hate.
And now I stay away from pools.
I write chemical equations and balance books on my head
and breathe easy because we are playing handball,
not learning the god-awful butterfly stroke.
I bury my flaws, this irrationality, this fear that steals my breath
beneath layers of debris and consciousness—
does that make me a coward?
Yes, but that’s okay.
Nadra Rahman, Age 15, Grade 10, Stuyvesant High School, Gold Key