Purvi Shah is a graduate student at Rutgers. She is the 1994 winner of the Virginia Voss Poetry Writing Award. Her work appears in Contours of the Heart. See her art in this issue of Weber Studies.
I Remember when We Were Holy
Immigrant Song #1
"This country will cost us our children."
—a line from the documentary Acting Our Age
I cast off all my tears at the gate.
Here every drop of moisture is sweat.
The sun keeps itself hidden.
I walk to work briskly
passing through a rain of words, sharp
as knives, long as factory time. I bring home
notes, precious as my uncut hair,
to be hoarded. My children grow
long. My girls keep their hair short
like English frocks. My girls don't talk
back but I can't catch what they say across
the telephone. Most
times I understand too well
how they are growing apart
from me. They work and spend
their money on blue jeans
and T-shirts. I remember how I used to want
flowing dresses, chiffon dupattas to grace
every crevice of my body. We thought ourselves holy.
Now I see our elders thrown
to the streets by their own sons
who claim the flat is too tiny
for everyone. Here people take their own
bedrooms. I want peace. Everyone says, "This country
will cost us our children." I wrap
my shawl tighter when I wave hello
to those huddled in the park. My work
waits for me, down the road.
I Live in Fear of Remembering
Immigrant Song #2
(Refrain from a second generation)
Did you come for freedom,
mother, or because your hands
were linked to a nomadic love?
I am bound to obligations
older than me, tied to memories
begun before my cord
severed. I have been
alone, mother, far from you
and family, without an exponent
of cousins, divorced from diligent
care. Life has been tough, hiding
behind partial truths, testing
borders with a slight transgression here, an open
My memories are more
about longing—I pass bicyclists
on crowded New York streets
and feel a heart-twist: India creeps
through me in stabs, a memory
of desire, of beyond.
There is no rain like Gujarat monsoon,
there is no mango as sweet
as the crop that can be butter
on heat-parched hands,
there is no face at every corner
which claims family.
Here all the roofs slant, angled
like my thoughts, germ begun
in one latitude only to stretch
to another. Here I live
in fear of remembering a life
I never knew, a home I never
inhabited. Yet my mind
is not a roof, nor a house
but a crossroads of sojourns,
a meetingplace of memories that belong
to no land except those territories soldered
during the refrain of transition.