Poem of the Week | December 10, 2018

This week we are delighted to present “Diaspora,” a new poem by Ranjana Varghese.

Ranjana Varghese’s work appears or is forthcoming in Louisville Review, Gulf Coast, Pebble Lake Review, and Cathexis Northwest Press, among others. She received her Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. Born in India and raised in the D.C. metropolitan area, she serves as the creative nonfiction editor of Oyster River Pages. She lives in Houston where she is a professor of literature, creative writing, and humanities.

 

Diaspora

“It is psychotic to draw a line between two places… Psychotic to lose something forever.”
—Bhanu Kapil

As children we fought, kite against kite,
yellow manjha coating our fingers even as it bit
into them. Evanescent rhombuses, red, yellow, tied
to lines coated with ground glass and gum and dye,
stretching string and necks, pulling us out
of ourselves, until the loser floated free, thread
cut by thread, while only one spar-stretched sheet
was recalled to ground, victorious, intact.
Win or lose, our hands bled, summer after Indian
summer, the skin young enough to forget
to callus.

We have not flown kites in years. That was another
country.

We have forgotten many things; even language
becomes a foreign thing in the mouth. We remember
ritual and fireworks, can still say Onam and Raksha Bandhan
and Diwali, though when the golden lamps need to be lit
for the goddess’s path is anyone’s guess.
We were never good at marking time by the moon;
in the absence of others ticking the calendar, there is
no one here to remind us.

When we go home for Saturday lunch Mum asks us
what we want to eat. We ask her to conjure up dal and
aviyal, baingan bharta and masala dosa; to spend hours
reducing milk to khoya, remembering its luscious weight
in our mouths, satisfying counterpoint to the thin
sugarsong of rose water.
She marvels at us, remembering a time when
we would have rolled our eyes and said, Anything
but Indian food.
Our tongues are the first to remember,
to return home.

 

Author’s Note

Having moved cities and countries often since I was a little kid, the idea of home is constantly changing for me. Over the course of many moves I came to understand that what “home” means to a person is inextricably tied to their sense of self. How we perform—consciously and subconsciously—in different cultural spaces and if/how we reconcile/synthesize these performative identities is significant, particularly to those of us who move across various kinds of borders, internal and external. In the process of its writing, this poem, which was initially about nostalgia for a childhood home, soon turned into one about a kind of homecoming. In that sense, it is about a return to your first sense of self, beginning to accept and integrate that which you might have once discarded or set aside as you were going through the process of shedding one skin and growing another. Those discarded or forgotten parts reassert themselves over the years and you decide what you want to do with them, choose to forget them or allow them to take you home.

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