Woman, Eat and Other Poems

    by Nupur Azadi

    Woman, Eat.

    I was 23 when I first heard a woman say, ‘I am hungry.’
    No woman I knew was ever hungry. I hadn’t been hungry since the second day of high school.
    She was older; she spoke of her appetite the way people do of a Razor, or trans fats.
    It was a matter of willful acceptance. I remember this today perhaps,
    5 years later, because she wasn’t the type of woman my mother called
    proper slender sundar.
    She wasn’t skinny. To be a full, filling body and to let anyone imagine you with food?

    I began to order figments of fried fluff from the bar. Colours, shapes, olives,
    something petite. But she said ‘I am hungry hungry.
    I took her to shah alam across the street. She ordered murtabak with the works.
    She wasn’t afraid to be seen in public with
    food fork feasting.
    She ate as I sat with a diet coke. Angry, confused, smug.
    No 23-year-old woman ate; everyone knew that.

    Hunger seemed corrupt.
    We were taught to appreciate how much men could eat.
    In an endearing vote of virility. ‘What a big boy.’
    Men ate from my plate. In an endearing voice of naivete. ‘My lil girl.’
    I have instinctively known to leave bigger portions for brothers; to let fathers have their fills first.
    What 23-year-old is only ever
    peckish famished starving.
    They seemed like made-up words supplied to women around me so they never had to say ‘I am hungry.’

    She ate as I sat with a diet coke and a bristled esophagus.
    I unrepentingly slid into the day I learned the word bulimia in a Chicken Soup paraphernalia
    seniors snuck from the library. I had only ever seen the word; when pronounced it sounded like
    no thank you had a big lunch am watching myself.
    My stomach was lined with so many ‘I have never seen you eat’ I had swallowed like compliments.

    A woman said I am hungry, and I remembered that I was too. Perhaps murtabak with the works
    set off a Pavlovian ring in me and I resentfully found my tongue flooded. 
    It is possible I had always been sitting at that table
    wagging lapping ravenous.
    I had learned how to order, what is a cleaver knife, where to put my hands.
    Textures, flavours, eye contact.
    Twiddling my thumbs, gums bleeding, burping hot gas.
    I had always been ready.  Just waiting for someone to say, ‘Woman, eat.’

    ***


    When I Say I Know What I Want

    To find myself, unsurprisingly, unceremoniously
    in a greek honeymoon suite alone in the middle of
    june, salt flirting with my upper lip slipping well

    past to pour at my feet  and to be my mother’s
    emergency contact. To have a milkman knock on my

    door every day at 7 and to be discovered resplendent at
    seoul biennale. A frivolous fake wedding and reluctant
    respect of a teenage daughter. To be a sulawesi
    tusker finding all of plath’s purple figs within reach
    and a long belated landmark career in compliance.

    I mean that I want to fall in love for the first time at 46 with
    a backpacker on seine and fall dead for the last time
    at 32 in the embrace of my high school lover.
    A fast life and slow death. Soft cheese and sharp canines.
    Pride and a paramour. To be a woman and to forget easy.

    ***


    Love Makes You Fat

    Three weeks later, for the last time,
    I lay on pillow of my farmer’s heart.
    He says for the first time, ‘You’ve
    Gotten greyer, baby.’ For a moment
    We pretend we grew old
    Together.

    He is rounder round the
    Waist, my knees make sound.
    I have sprung greys he is losing.
    ‘What is it about love that fattens,’
    I say with complacency – our
    Third flatmate.

    When it is done, one day soon,
    He will come for his things
    Go to the gym. He will raze his hair short.
    I will roast the greys to rust.
    I will go dancing again,
    Yanking back my center of gravity
    An act of unaging, scrubbing,
    Vacating the homes we had begun to
    Fill out.

    We will say we let ourselves
    Go the way dead fishes
    Go with the flow.
    ‘What is it about love that oldens,’
    We will mutter as friends hold our
    Fullness halved in barter for comfort – our
    Fourth flatmate.

    He will call family he hasn’t spoken to in a
    While and they will wonder why and
    He will know. I will return to the poem
    I abandoned the day we met. Unceremoniously
    We will cry back the people we used to
    Be, alone.

    When it is done, one day soon,
    We will take stock. Two mothers ignored,
    Seven friends fallen off, fifteen pizzas too many,
    Forty-three days in bed unmade,
    Sixty-two commitments unattended,
    One person made into a habit.

    The four of us will separate and evacuate
    A happy ending we were told to want.
    A home that housed patterns uninvited.
    An escape in the name of love uninformed.
    When it is done, one day soon,
    Two people – older, fuller, fatter –
    Will begin again.

    ***


    Guest China

    The real difference is that Mother’s first was a wedding gift. There was a 16-piece silver set. She came to my father’s home with daily-use Borosil glassware and stainless steel collections fit for a family of five. Four, if she really wanted a career. There were some passed-down antique prayer plates and brassware. She served rose milk and gulab-jamun in them.

    My first was a haul of polypropylene plastic divider plates and sippy cups from IKEA. I later got some plastic spoons and sporks from FairPrice. I even took some of her Borosil glassware with me to college. I nuked garlic bread and experimented with instant noodles in these.

    If anything is everything, then with no subtlety I submit that this is who we are. In our relationship with cutlery and china we forged our distinct womanhoods. How she imagines people and placement around tables when she looks at a tea set. How she shelves guest china, how she has assigned meaning and purpose to all vessels, how her heart breaks when crockery does.

    How I have no concept of guest plates, how I would drink water from a bowl and eat soup from a larger bowl if I were left to my own devices. How I have begun to steal forks and coasters and chutney bowls from bars I like. How the only crockery I couldn’t bear to watch break is all that I have inherited from her.

    How hers seem to say, “You can depend on me.” And mine seem to say, “I don’t depend on anybody.”

    Nupur Azadi is an international stage artist and writer. She is the creator of the art form Theatrical Poetry. Her work has been hailed as ‘urgent’ and ‘engaging’ across Asia and Europe. She is currently further producing her one-woman show ‘Live. Love. Loaf. An investigation into who gets to loiter’ which previously toured across Asia. In the industry she has been described as ‘intensely profound and sharply observant, this theatrical poet is cheeky, brazen and yet confusingly soft!’ Through her work, she explores the unbounded personal liberties as the ultimate beckoning of any social movement.

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