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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