here’s what I remember
there’s a troubled lady in my head,
walking up and down
all of the alleys visited only by the dead.
sixteen circles around time, with a noose,
she measures its threads like rosary beads.

epitaphs are the morning prayer,
blood till break o break is the national anthem.
she would burn a fire on her palm everyday,
just to make sure she’s still flammable;
i try to dig up skin for her but she sits there -
a souvenir of doom. cautious! soak in the child’s crying;
what if he turns stillborn over your blink.

today mother is screaming at a child already under the sod.
she believed i’d learn to swim if i keep drowning for too long,
perhaps something women learn from marriage.
i’d put my fingers on the stove,
waiting for my skin to learn how not to catch fire.
now, i don’t function unless i’m tiptoeing in a burning room
with an acetylene bucket on my head;
i turned off the fire alarms, the sirens stop only
if you softly let them smother your pulse
to a beaten clove.
don’t you dare paint me a senile mustard soup,
no, i won’t come down mother; all this rage-
my clenched fists are boisterous serpents now,
i arrange them on splinters of my elmwood front desk.

my eyes- boiled beetroots scavenging my flesh;
squeezed oceans spasm under my skin.
i’m always out of breath you say,
so i start licking air off knives-
your lips haven’t learnt to palate
the pungent blood on my tongue.
I bury myself in sand; let the ocean ridge my chest.
lovers trace their footprints on my neck,
mother walks on me dragging her nail.
she lets it dig into my ribs like a fishhook.
modesty in rusted nails, or so she was taught.
i fold my limbs, dangle them down the refrigerator.
three evenings later, mother tries to thaw my brain;
she places me beside the fireplace.
my hands are trying not to quiver,
water isn’t allowed to move on its own;
i must bend only in a vessel,
must wait for my blood to be funneled out in words,

bland- i got it ma.
i got you the word. now stop
curling your fist in rage,
my sadness isn’t in foreign language.
i think it’s my mother tongue,
you know it all too well.

meenal jhajharia