The Fridge and Other Poems

    By Arjun Rajendran

    The Fridge

    Look, no more chamadumpas,
    kovakais or obese baingans.
    Just artisanal pork, bhoot
    jolokia and kebabs: no more
    need to lie about the red meat.

    Your head, Ma, conceals well
    among the cabbages. When
    I peeled open your eye-lid
    three days from the mortuary,
    as you lay before the oven

    bathed, in a currant black gown,
    your sister slapped my wrist.
    But it was too late: I’d already
    seen. The retina, like curd you’d
    half-eaten with avakaya pickle,

    then stored away un-lidded
    for maggots: such culture.
    No more broken coconuts,
    withered jasmine or marigold.
    The snake gourd is not for God.

    Above the tray empty of insulin
    needles, eggs not devilled.
    The pet mongoose, (when
    I was nine?) munching squid
    when you opened the door

    Now sits comfortably atop
    the beer and wine bottles,
    enjoying sushi with a chopstick.
    My memory, unlike supermarket
    vegetables, isn’t lacking in flavour.

    Hearing

    We tell her she’s holding
    the handset upside-down

    She rotates it 180º, then
    another 180, wires tangled

    still trying to speak through
    the ear-piece while we

    slap our foreheads, helpless
    beyond words, struggling

    all our lives to convince her
    she’s not being heard

    that she won’t be heard
    I should have known it was

    too late but she’d tell me
    not to worry, someday

    I’d hear her loud and clear
    from the grave

    This is still your room

    I knock on your door armed
    to scream back, to hear
    the perennial excuse: I am
    working
    —at the corner
    table of your room
    behind a mountain of gowns,
    arbitration papers, strewn
    needles and clouds un-dyed
    like your hair. Way past midnight
    you scare the dogs, our sleep,
    with your vernacular artillery.

    I knock on the door, then open
    it to the shrapnel of tidiness.
    This is no charade. Combs
    smiling through their teeth,
    bereft of ugly tufts, grease
    and stale oil. No bindis on your
    mirror. But then I spot you, in
    the Picasso above the side-table,
    both in the girl and the dove:
    merely a print, still signed
    with your love.

    The Parrot-Crow

    Recently in her seventies
    (while house hunting)
    Mama deemed the day inauspicious
    when an omen, as it flies,
    braced her holy head

    So, I now confess that lie
    of my childhood, when
    I sheltered a fledgling crow
    in the name of a parrot:
    When asked why

    its beak wasn’t red, or aquiline
    like her favourite poet’s,
    I swore it broke
    against the skin of an unripe
    mango

    Then what about its coat,
    black like her lawyer
    Father’s when summoned
    To court? Ask it to say
    ‘sweet’, ‘fruit’, ‘boat’…

    Oh stop!
    I moaned, it’s no perjury!

    It tipped the old maid’s
    hair-dye so unkind to green—
    this bird is so ill now
    that all the English it speaks
    now sounds like Tamil…

    And by your own comparison
    To Telugu, all the Tamil you hear
    sounds like a crow!

    The Hospital Rainbow

    Even if her heart, the kidneys.
    Even if the kidneys, a vegetable.
    Not plant you see. Vegetable.
    A bitter gourd glued to a machine.

    Dad, when he learnt, fainted
    on the ramp. For an eternity I ran
    between his ECG room and Ma’s
    ICU, faced with the prospect

    of two funerals. I ran with three
    stents in my heart and a few smokes
    in my pocket. Unbeknownst to me,
    the weather scheduled a rainbow

    from Apollo’s rooftop. We waited
    in the motel, and no, I couldn’t lay
    off the Vodka. I stretched on
    the bed, barely closed my eyes

    before seeing it with my eyes:
    The flatline, the nurses’ mechanical
    unplugging, the laminated red
    Ganesha still behind her head.

    I lifted her arm, gently placing
    it down. I lifted her gown
    and for the first time in my
    remembrance, saw her breasts—

    smothered in ICU light.
    I didn’t touch or kiss them.
    My grief didn’t compromise her dignity.
    So I knelt by her right, and sobbed

    while my aunt dragged me into
    the brutal silence outside—for I was
    killing the sick with my bawls.
    The attendant stopped me from

    seeing her again: they were
    packing her. (How many postal stamps
    does a corpse need to go
    from the deathbed to the mortuary?)

    I was soon at a tea-stall, inhaling
    that godawful greeting card
    rainbow— will always wonder
    what was written inside.

    Arjun Rajendran’s poems in this issue are dedicated to his mother who passed away in August 2022.

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