The terrific torment of two

Sunday, January 12, 2020 - 8:20pm

Forward: I have written extensively about how my Indian and American identities have shaped and influenced 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. This poem was inspired by the passing of my grandmother almost 10 years ago. 

 

The Terrific Torment of Two

Exhale

As my breath flowed out of my lungs, 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 from under my collarbones 

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-like the hands of a small child

Gently coaxing a wider smile

I surrendered, beaming 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

 

Inhale 

The air is room temperature but still manages to send shivers down my spine

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

a sweet innocent confession 

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

One boy with chestnut curls catches my eye and smiles

And a flood crashes through me

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

 

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

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

 I’m watching perfectly mechanical manicured hands 

 

Inhale

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 the leaves 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

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 like I’m sitting beside a tall, 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

 

Exhale

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

And 

 

I’m running 

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

My breathing is heavy

 

Exhale

Inhale

Exhale 

Inhale

 

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