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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