At the train station, a taxi driver shouting
for pilgrims. In the train, stories of pilgrims
visiting shrine, over and over. They find god
napping, are asked to wait outside.
The city smells of earth and thunder, fish
and hair oil, coconut and sharp green chili.
In the corner, a landmark named Land Mark,
stark shadows painted on dilapidated walls,
a billboard advertising Good Luck Hosiery,
palms grinning in the backdrop.
Guilt is a railway platform
pungent with warm bodies.
Here, each street contradicts its neighbor,
red light to burkha in twenty-three footsteps.
New name scratched over old, Victorian building
named after Shivaji. Even the trees
wear their roots on the outside. The maps
are onions, layer upon translucent layer.
A child selling hairclips on the slow train,
swinging from handrails overhead. We catch
each other’s eyes. She offers advice
for my acne, a balm I do not know,
available, she promises, at The Medical.
At my station, she hangs out of the open
train door, DDLJ ishstyle.
By the road, an abandoned swing,
boat-shaped. Scrawled on its side,
This is not a Saccharine Love
I love you precisely, like your fingers
tracing circles on my wrist, the largeness
of your hands. Like the gaps between
worlds we sometimes fill, sometimes
fall through. Like corridors and swing doors,
an invitation into deeper. Like a snake
learning to shed, grow new skin.
I love you like salt and reaching
into ocean, claiming
what always was.
Half a Monsoon
This holy month, I will return
to the mosque where you and I
watched the rain last year,
quick drops tumbling
against sandstone, jumping
at red touch. Where children ran out
covered corridors, filling coke bottles.
Where the rickshaw puller turned
to look at me, then the sky, then
laugh: This is the flavor of home.
Halfway through the days you and I spent
learning each other’s lives, you said the rain
in my city is new and horizontal. We talked
about our meanings of rain. Today, it is mine,
the extravagance. It is more than soggy socks
and half burned laughter.
This year, we have waited longer than usual
for the city's greenest bath. But now, as grass
glows and cars stall and trees grow grimeless
and mosquitoes prepare for war, drought
is a theoretical knowledge, like you are
a silhouette against a skyline I never learned
to love, the other end of endless blue.
Yesterday, when you lay
across my computer screen, I remembered
soaked evenings at my house, the games
lemonade won, the way wine turns you
into a child holding a lullaby.
I am here now, slowly opening
your chest, searching for a bone
I will grow from (ribs are interesting
only as cages — a stolen bar
will help you breathe easy).
I am less a cat with nine lives, more
a lizard abandoning her tail. You
are precious but disposable
in the face of danger. You
are danger. You see, your laughter
fits too snugly against mine, no room
for in-between breath. You see, I need you
to know imbalance.
Let me try again: look closely
at the algae, the centimeter thick promise
of land. Look where the frog
jumps into the black
underneath. I have always been tempted
by grassy welcomes. I cannot blame you
for taking advantage.
The Art of Losing
To Elizabeth Bishop
Have you heard of the room
on 23rd street? It is a loosely kept secret,
a place where lost things go. Bundles
of faraway winters, scraps of a day
carefully folded, recipes, gossip sealed
in cellotape and staples, broken bridges
between mainland and green-blue orphan.
Have you seen how they hide, spill
out of each other? Read the ransom notes?
I need help, Elizabeth. I need to learn to wink
at lost letters, laughters, lovers ― your art
of letting continents slip through fingers
(no broken bones). I need the clocklessness
of missing pasts and futures. I need to throw
houses like boulders. I need not to chase
them down on all fours. Teach me your secret,
Elizabeth, how long does it take? I mean
the unstaining. How long for the melting
of little leaden balls lodged below ribs?
How long before faraway frost fades
into green? Before cellotape and staples
dissolve, before a letter is reborn
as spoon or jellyfish? How long, Elizabeth?
Aditi Rao is a writer, educator, and dreamer. Winner of the 2011 Srinivas Rayaprol Prize for Poetry and the 2013 Toto Funds the Arts Creative Writing Award, Aditi's poetry has appeared in Four Quarters magazine, Muse India, Cha: An Asian LIterary Journal, qarrtsiluni, and other publications, and her essays have been featured in People Building Peace 2.0 (published by the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict), Moments that Speak: Images and Stories of Connection (published by the Earth Charter Initiative) and InfochangeIndia. Her first full-length collection of poetry, The Fingers Remember, will be released by Yoda Press in August 2014.