My First Smocked Chemise
In the cloister, the sisters
stitched their secret;
we watched their thimbles
wondering if they were pears,
peacocks or push-carts.
Pastel shades of nylon
baby gowns with smocked busts
and baby frills alternated
with coloured embroidery.
Each stitch equally spaced
with computer precision.
The Sisters of Cluny
made a handiwork of art
handed over through generations
over-seeing the minute fabrication,
mannequins dressed up as Angels.
The ancient grey structures of Pondicherry
and the feast of all those Saints.
Most of all, the charity sale
my family indulged in clothes
from the nunnery of Christ-brides.
The white froth of the sea,
the washed out hue of bright colours
concocted to match a mingle of waves
rising like the dust of mud roads.
Padded necks patterned with curves
and angles, linings of soft linen,
and tiny loops for buttons
like the eyes of birds.
On the kitchen shelf
I see my childhood photo:
white frock and red rose
black frock and white rose
a toothless smile
and remember mother
who must have requested the photographer
to tarry a little, as she hurried
to the garden to picture-pick those flowers.
Because you made us go to Kasi thrice,
because we made it full circle with Rameswaram
we were assured of a child. O stone serpent in the sack,
how we dragged you only to leave you under the temple
Banyan tree--two serpents rocking a baby Krishna to sleep.
I used to think it as serpents in copulation; you spoke
of the kundalini rising from the mooladhara, I understood it
as the Yin and Yang. We dunked ourselves is okay
but you dunked me in the twenty two theerthas, so that
I had to find a gap to breathe, you closed your nostrils
and dived into the sea thrice, I did not know how to hold
my breath, choked in the brine; years later
we went to Rameswaram to show off our children
also as thanksgiving; that stone-stupa that rests
under the great Banyan tree with hundreds
of other stone serpents, remains undocumented.
Sivakami Velliangiri's poem was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, 2016. Her chapbook “In My Midriff’ was published online by The Lily Literary Review. Her poems have been featured in Asian Cha, Danse Macabre, The Little Magazine, The Indian Scholar, Youth Times, Muse India. She has read at Semester-At -Sea from Pittsburg, the Prakriti Foundation, & Muse India Festival. Professor Srinivasa Iyengar had included her among the women poets from India writing in English in his History Of English Literature (1980).