Poetry at Sangam





Though it might not have been readily apparent,
I saw my father, ever conscious of dollars & cents,
filch toilet paper from a maid’s cart. Not a parent-
like thing to do, granted, nothing that makes sense
given his comportment. I wonder if he could choose
differently or if he was just acting in a waking daze,
a kleptomaniac stupor. Watching the way he chews
his food sometimes, I puzzle what pleasure his days
on earth might consist of & how I might be his son
when his default mode of looking is to glare. Pried
open, what dreams might orbit his heart as the sun
harnesses planets to spin? All I see his dark pride.
This stranger, my father, a Tamilian of Brahmin caste,
remains elusive no matter how many lines I cast.


Finding out she was betrothed, my mother bawled
in the high branch of a banyan tree, uncertain whether
to jump or to hide knowing she was to marry the bald
man come to marry her sister but in the shifting weather
of Vedic astrological charts, much better suited to hold
her hand. She was 19, he 30 & they had yet to meet.
That long first afternoon, she preferred to stay holed
up until her father called to say the man ate no meat,
was kind & came from a good family. God who knows
best would want nothing more for her. So down the limb
she shimmied, wiping away tears & her ringed nose
on the sleeve of her salwar kameez. She was yet to limn
the shape of her life to be in America, frying bread
not from lentil batter For that, she was not yet bred.


In Hindu myth, Yama, God of death, is no mere idol
but incarnation of justice, dharma, who will plumb
the deeds of a mortal life. Astride a buffalo, never idle,
holding mace and noose, dark as a rotting green plum,
he decides each next life in accordance with what’s fair.
As a teenager, I would sit in temple under an ornate frieze
of gods, trying my hardest not to estimate the airfare
it took to bring these sculptures to the winter freeze
of Virginia from Southern India, my stomach in a knot
while old Sanskrit slokas, rich with meanings I missed
completely droned on. What’s just? Shame? Why me, not
you, stuck with smelly barefoot Indians? Then from mist,
I saw a shape: myself looking back at me without lesson
or reprieve in lucent outlines that have yet to lessen.