Three Poems

    By Vasvi Kejriwal

    Peeling Onions

    The kitchen tries to say something today—

    yellow-thick moong dal canopying a heap of plain basmati
    resembles the skin of the endangered Panamanian Golden Frog.

    Butt-faced bananas hang from their stem like blind bats.
    Onionskins shimmer like Diwali gift-wrappers.

    Headless broccoli stalks mimic trees. And potatoes grow eyes.
    A quiet stack of ceramic quarter-plates sits in codependent harmony.

    One sunk inside the hold of the other, one groove dug into the next
    like a coastal shelf or like genealogy: a growing deposit of habit

    from a century-worth of ancestors that sits inside me.
    We sit for lunch, and we take turns with the paper.

    Like we take turns to orbit each other through the house.
    Sometimes Ma mocks the spoons for they’re too big

    for her bowl. Or Dadu questions the truth behind
    a compliment. And sometimes I wail like a squawking bald eagle:

    disempowered and majestic, both at the same time.
    What was spoken is forgotten. But these mishaps happen

    only at mealtime.     And so the kitchen finally speaks.
    I peel an onion. The more I peel, the more relentlessly its sweet

    sting hits the eye (sweet because it is familiar like an old argument
    sanded with time). Each one of us is a bursting backlog of unsaid prayer.

    There comes a point after which gratitude becomes an old, soiled dishcloth:
    its true colour— altered. Perhaps the kitchen is saying:

    arguments work like onions too. The more you unwrap word after word
    in the hunt for intention or whatnot you read in that self-help book,

    the more it will sting. I unwrap the rings of perfect, pink elliptical shine
    one after the other      until I find nothing.

    Notes to Myself on Earth Day

    There is much to learn
    of the cruel mutations
    of industrial swell
    from the crow at the balcony
    who has shown up everyday
    for the last seven days
    with a mini-aluminium rod
    clenched in its bill.

    There is much to learn
    from moons that tirelessly
    bleed gold on the landfilled lake.
    And from how the forest dwells
    in our city- exiled to the order
    of scummiest effluvia, ranked best
    invisible in the cracks between
    buses and bureaucracy.

    There is much to learn
    from the peepal that grows
    first in, then out the stone wall,
    like a beautiful ghost.
    Less to learn from fossils
    of mythology, we may hail from:
    Gods who plucked mountains
    as if crumbs of cake, broke trees
    with twiddling thumbs to caulk
    the money-slaved vacuum of men.

    There is much to learn
    from things we wish not to learn.
    Words we wish not to speak.
    Bless the fifty-year-old mother goddess
    who knows not the crowning glory
    of the orgasm, someone please
    tell her: the clitoris has a tongue.
    She may conduct her own
    one-woman coronation; it takes
    one hand- I promise less effort than clapping.

    Bless them for whom the birthing ended
    right after things got born-
    when the body finally alone, breathed.
    Bless them who never felt duped by
    or sold hard on the joy this life brings.
    Never heard the wound of forests whimper
    beneath the foundation of their homes.
    How many times can blood be rinsed
    off hands and adzes
    before one erases the pigment of living?
    Bless them who never once offered to carry
    the burden of a spiralling earth,
    like an executioner’s axe, on their necks.
    Never felt the soft arms of a river
    unfold from around the hips.

    Bless them who have built walls
    in their eyes, fortified them
    with bricks and trellises. Oh bless
    each windowless brain.

    The Elephants in Yunnan

    “five elephants pass slowly through a car dealership, indifferent to human attention… [and caused more than $1 million in crop damages.”] – New York Times

    Outside, clouds smash head on
    into the mud as fast as corona.

    Inside, I have slipped on
    a zipless dress as fast as corona.

    The world is dying slowly here-
    at home, where everyone bears

    the burden of adjustment. We moulder
    away, wipe the calling bell, the knob

    and go a little batty keeping away
    used coins in a box. The earth shrugs off

    its inhibitions. Dolphins at Marine Drive
    divulge secrets. Canals in Venice

    have an opening, after years,
    to luxuriate in a bath. The elephants-

    the blithe swish of their pearl-grey
    muzzles- easy unlike this slate-grey

    building block. They amble and grub
    about, crumple windows and doors,

    corn and cane- no longer tamed
    in their soberness. We become

    dust here. We forget this.
    Like we forget stricken trees, saw

    them to chairs and grace them
    with our bottoms. Just think-

    the sunflowers, first wilting
    in a book. Then in a museum.

    A JPEG. Numbers in the news
    rise and rise and rise

    like the sun. I want to unlearn
    to forget. To recall the crusty white

    shell of each milk tooth, the ruptured
    innards of my jaw. I want to make a word

    for when I combed my dead
    grandmother’s hair. That time we stopped

    visiting the river after we got rained on,
    just once. This loss- I must walk down

    its long winding road- hardened
    with red earth, lined with brushwood.

    Then sit with my sorrows cradled
    in cupped hands, breed my fledgling

    reasons to live. I will rest
    my palm over my heart-

    its thumping, homely weight
    like a roof over my head.

    Vasvi Kejriwal was born in Kolkata and graduated from the School of Law, Queen Mary University of London in 2019. She is a previous winner of the RATTLE Ekphrastic Challenge. Her poems have appeared in Mekong Review, The Alipore Post and the Yearbook of Indian Poetry in English. Her writing has also been commended by Radiant Peace Foundation International.

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