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Winter 1998, Volume 15.1

Poetry

 

Diane Mehta


Diane Mehta (M.A., Boston U) has published in
The Antioch Review, The Journal, The Formalist, The Lines Review, Salamander, The Columbia Review, and several Indian-American anthologies.

 

Hot December: Memory of Holiday in Bombay

I

The eldest children trained as doctors, the rest
Have graduate degrees, professional careers.
Work is hard: babies, pensions, manifest
Best-house-on-the-block destinies. You steered
Them right with good advice, financial counsel
And the example of reliability. Specialize
Within a field until your expertise cancels
Out all but minor competition. (Actualize
What you imagine.) Can I imagine a poem
You would learn for me? With compliance
Between conventions, chromosomes,
Clinical inventions, little escapes science.
My sentences don't grow on treesó
If you find your formula, give it to me?

II

Ajay and Prithy, shopping at the World Trade Center,
Promised Natasha would sleep while we sped home
Down Marine Drive, that she would certainly never
Cry for them. The door slammed, Natasha combed
The vicinity, dizzily recognizing their absence.
To quiet her, we lied: "We're going to see
Mom and dad at Simla House, no nonsense
Or they'll be angry, dad will bring you candy
If you stop crying. See the beggars, the coconut trees?
You want some chocolate? Beer? A shot of Vodka?
Shut up, kid or we'll sell you into slavery."
Our laughter confused her, but she was no tequila
Sunrise so we drove back to the Oberoi where Prithy Bartered for carpets.
Natasha stopped crying immediately.

III

Between Simla House and Cathedral School
Fabrics dry on a fence, men grin at my inconvenience.
I circumvent the black puddles of their communal
Pond, public as Europe's fountains.
Here, insults boil down to heat, soapó
Scrubbed Indian skin is the color of lentils.
Runoff eddies at the edge of the dirt slope.
Girl servants bathe with unsentimental
Efficiency, their gleam from daily ablutions
Resembles the translucence a translation
Sometimes illuminates when uncommon
Languages synthesize. Is difference discrimination?
It jerks me back to the color of American
Textiles: olive, white, light-skinned next to Dravidian.

IV

In the business of Nirvana, does truth come
Every 24 Tirthankaras? My family
Ends up at the same table, though some
Will be reborn, others will simply
Die, and Ba may become a soul because she tried
To be good, she prayed for triumphs of fasting,
Forgiveness, every life lost in the slide
Of convenience: garlic roots gone to cooking.
Breakfast snaps in the frying pan, we wake
To sweet coffee and conversation
Ambling between languages. For the sake
Of our parents we follow directions
Tradition enters quietly: Even in bathing
Each bucket is a cleaner life in the hierarchy of rinsing.

 

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