Three poems translated into Chinese and published in The World Poets Quarterly February Volume 93, Feb 2019
A certain way (and other two poems)
As an immigrant,
I am expected to behave in a way
a certain way.
Colour the walls with turmeric,
fill my soul with lament
for the land whose shores I have left
to become richer economically
Fold oil into long black hair,
dream the stars of the eastern skies,
in this land, the land I call my own,
but never to be my own.
Wrapped in sarees, sapphire blue, sindoor red,
meant to be nostalgic about the
monsoon spray dazzling my eyes
calming my burning skin.
Instead, my mind
soothed by the nourishing cool green
of the land I live in,
energised by the glowing orange sun
of the land I come from,
decorates ice cubes with spice.
With silver anklets, red stilettoes,
the shortest, blackest dress,
I sip prosecco, spear olives expertly,
pile plates with rice and chicken curry
while in the garden
lavender, jasmine, clematis, and marigold,
spread their roots, dance their petals
into the pale grey wet skies
and the searing sunshine.
Uproot, grow, take root
parallel truths, a little of this,
a little of that.
For an immigrant,
there is no certain way to be.
SCREAM THROUGH NATURE
No orange skies
No blood-red clouds
No sun screaming through haystacks
I wake I wake
I ask why
I work I work
I ask why
I walk I walk
I ask why
for this scream through nature, in my head, in my bones, in my blood, caving in, exploding out, within the veins and the arteries and asking me why, especially when it’s morning, when that sun rises every day, expected to rise every day, and with that, I do too, to have the same, do the same and walk out where I have been to before, every day, and I think I mustn’t, I shouldn’t, for surely there is a sky above, grass to run on, there is somewhere to escape, walk out and you will be free, open the doors and there you are free, yet free to do what, free for what and whom, and then there is nothing, and while the thoughts and I try and the screams stop and there I am walking out again, the same path the same way the yesterday and today and tomorrow joining hands together in some macabre dance and I do the same as yesterday, and over and over and over again
Read poem at Visual Verse.
The lilies brood
darkening thoughts of what is past,
of what may never come,
dread rising silently
in stagnant roots.
The lilies weave
pink, purple, blue, flickers of
dreams, of wishes, of holding
bits of the sky in their bodies.
The lilies wilt
drooping lives, death the sentinel
The lilies bloom
magic on paper, colours in the water,
impressions forming, growing, breaking
the canvas ablaze with a day, a season
and just for a moment
the lilies hold
eternity in their bodies.
(Based on the waterlilies series by Claude Monet)
Read more of my poems in the September 2018 issue of Setu.
Not knowing, Migration
The Banyan tree and the Oak
know the same language
is not an answer
nor a question
birds leave and return
Passport engraved with a stamp
coloured, dated. I
booked a ticket, landed in a country
closer to the poles from a country
closer to the equator
I didn’t know
I would collect theories and words
on my back
like a feathery creature
feathers firm on the body
plucking one out draws blood
Wonder why, how, I became
so many things at once
Emigrant, Immigrant, Migrant, Subaltern
theories to luxuriate, nest in
I didn’t know
that I am invisible
when I enter a room
I didn’t know
the philosophers, post-colonists
have labelled behaviour
branded my very soul
Hybridity, Provincialism, Orientalism
my shadows, my silhouettes defined
before I knew
Two- headed Janus
looking out, looking in
from where we came
to where we came
I didn’t know
I thot i was I
I was i.
Read Not knowing, Migration in The Lake.
An almost tropical rain arrives
I watch from the window.
Quiet roads, quieter cars.
The almost tropical rain
adorns the hanging planters.
Colourful flowers, petunias, azaleas, fuchsias
but fragrance less,
so the rain awakens nothing, hidden.
There’s even a hint of hailstones in today’s rain.
But, to be truly tropical you
need to emerge from the hunger of heat
the acridity of drought.
You need to rise deep from ponds brimming with lotuses
form clouds that spray down at will, lustily.
An almost tropical thunder today.
But to be truly tropical you
need to have been conceived in despair
spawned in hunger.
You need to have it in your belly.
The rain beats down today
it is not the same.
The Skin of Tradition
The foreigner watches a wedding in fascination
large bindi squatting on her forehead
red saree colouring white limbs.
The elders enthuse at how she
sits relaxed on the dusty ground
reveres the sacredness of every chant
embraces chaos in wondrous happiness.
The Americans, Germans, English,
French, Italians flock here, hearts one
with conch shells; cross-legged,
slurp white rice and dal from banana leaves.
Yet I, I ask for my fork and spoon.
Yet I, born in a small town, tempered by heat,
coloured with tradition, married saree-clad
in front of the fire, complain of the fumes,
my eyes burning. I, brought up within these walls
make it a point to question too much:
Why should I, why must I, bow in respect,
hide in shame, follow rules and customs,
forget myself? I question for years.
Later, in London, that city I call home,
forgetting that at home tulsi plants sit in courtyards
white chita is drawn on Thursday
to welcome Lakshmi.
‘A city without temples scratching its skyline
cannot be home, ever,’ they pronounce.
I question for years.
The answer, thought but not mouthed:
You can appreciate culture
fold your legs in supplication
bend your head, fast all day in a temple
knowing tomorrow you will be home.
Today is a thrill, like climbing Machu Picchu
like rowing down the Okavango Delta.
When the blood that runs in you today
bled on a pyre hundreds of years ago
soaking chrysanthemum garlands;
when, had you lived in a village
fifty years ago, you would be
behind a veil waiting, watching;
when not that many years back, a marriage
marked you with blood red sindoor in black hair
closeted rooms, opened legs
breeding healthy sons
if not white widows.
Since you know all this, the legs don’t fold here
in the dust, in the sacredness
even though they do at yoga in the gym.
The heart that belongs, never accepting, runs,
runs the farthest,
to shed centuries of old skin.
To read more, subscribe to the Asia Literary Review.
6 poems from the March 2015 issue of Episteme.
Your first born
Arms spanning the world
crushing it with iron strength.
Your second born
exploding fire from his mouth
burning souls in a day.
The ones who came after
raged for days
destroying the fabric of the skies,
the foundations of forests
ripping the sturdy mountains
until the streams dripped blood.
Still you didn’t stop.
You carried on
one after the other
advancing across geographies
living unimagined futures.
Till one day, they swallowed the sun
whole, shredded the earth
and washed away the paintings
of your image
Till they brought apocalypse
in the middle of the Yuga.
4 poems from the Jul-Aug 2012 issue of Muse India.
Yet another hotel room
The same layout
I check the soaps and the lotions
And add them to my growing collection
I fluff out the beds to make it more slept in
And try to make the night shorter by staying out late
Anything to make it quick
Anything to forget
The little crying face I left behind
The joy of achievement
The sadness of seeing your child cry
Where is the balance
As the stillness grows in the hotel room
I wish you a good night’s sleep miles away
And lie awake till dawn
Poems from the Sep-Oct 2014 issue and more of Mona’s work can be found at Muse India (where she can be found listed in the Authors’ Index).