Foreword: I have written about how my Indian and American identities have shaped who I am as a person today. Those influences are largely positive. However, there are moments when walking the line between these two worlds is unduly painful and especially difficult. This is one of those moments. The most important idea I am trying to communicate is the nostalgia children of immigrants can feel for a home or family member they just barely know. That nostalgia is accompanied by this feeling of not being able to fully belong in America. To that end, the poem flashes back between my life in the United States and a singular memory with my grandmother. 

The Terrific Torment of Two


As my breath flowed out, I could tell it was lighter than the humid air that enveloped me 

The effect? 

A surreal feeling-as I was floating a few inches above the ground

I look down and watched my toes dig into the earth beneath me

The sand easily gave way as my feet sunk in further, providing no explanation for the lightness I felt 

But my ignorance was bliss 

I raised my face and smiled-welcoming the sun’s warmth

Its rays tugging at the edges of my lips endearingly

Gently coaxing a wider smile

I beamed back with an equally radiant euphoria and peace

From the distance, a voice calls my name 

An elderly woman carrying a straw basket full of fresh methi leaves

From under her soft blue dupatta, her warm eyes beckon me forward


Complying, I focus on putting one foot in front of the other to get to the front of the room

Meanwhile, my stomach does somersaults

I fix my gaze on the bright fluorescent lights overhead 

As my teacher stumbles through my first and last name

Coffee stained teeth framed by garishly pink-painted lips send me back to my seat

As soon as I sit down, a crumpled piece of paper is tossed to my side of the desk

I reach for it without hesitation

An innocent inquiry about the intricate henna decorating my palms…

I swelled with pride, grateful for the curiosity

My questions about the origin of the note are answered by an eruption of muffled laughter from a nearby table

One girl catches my eye and snears, 

“Why would you scribble on your hands with marker like that” 

And a flood crashes over me

All at once, that note carried an invitation to belong and a subtle reminder of my current isolation

I am an outsider

A disapproving hush brings everyone’s rapt attention to the front of the room 

But before long, the words on the board blur out of focus

And I’m watching perfectly mechanical manicured hands move like clockwork 


In the air is a distinct hint of jasmine and the methi leaves I was holding 

Her fingers danced 

As they quickly threaded through the bunches of leaves

Easily pulling them from their stems

I am mesmerized by the beauty in the simplicity

Her nails are bare and the skin on her hands is adorned by a myriad of wrinkles

Her hands painted wisdom with each movement-free from the bounds of time

Simple yet elegant

One hand reaches towards mine and lifts up my chin adoringly

Her eyes look into mine for answers

But I didn’t know how to put into words that

For a moment I feel so absolutely secure- like I’m sitting beside a wise willow tree

Tall enough to shade me from the sun and strong enough to protect me from any storm 

I turn my head towards the sky again

Suddenly, the sun is nowhere to be seen

And clouds litter the horizon


I watch my breath form a plume of water vapor in front of me

The dark clouds send down flurries in a torrent

We rush inside, letting the screen door slam behind us 

Nothing is out of the ordinary: 

A blaring TV, the smell of spices from the kitchen, the laundry machine whirring away

But, something was wrong 

As if to confirm my suspicions, 

The rice on the stove boils over

A mistake my ever so attentive mother wouldn’t dream of committing 

My feet guide me to the living room

My backpack still resting on my shoulders 

They wear poker faces but the anguish in their eyes is deafening


I am running 

I run until there’s no more land and icy water hits my feet

My breathing is heavy





But my feet stay grounded 

And the old woman in my memories 

The woman I was just beginning to know 

Is lost in time and some 8082 miles

Edit: On August 14th, 2021, this poem has been edited for grammatical purposes.

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