11 Theses on Undressing Me
- Start by yelling when it is cold. Only inch towards me when all the heat in your body has been expelled.
- With your thumb and a blunt knife, take my eyes. These are your binoculars for the gravel near the front steps. Collect the most shiny stones.
- To undress me, you must prostrate yourself before your most valuable objects.
- To undress me, you must ask your hands for forgiveness.
- A meditation on forgiveness: When I was 16, I stole a packet of mango candies from Patel Groceries and took the bus from the suburbs a week later to return with change. The auntie behind the counter folded my palm over the money and sent me home with a box of kaju khatli for the person who loved me the most.
- That person is my brother. He is made of shoulders, long lashes, and pungent joy. Yesterday was raksha bandhan. I threaded my arms through the middle part of the country, like the interstate and like a great rhizome and I tied a red string around his wrist.
- Imagine the weight of those great knots. Realize that you are the force of their undoing.
- My brother has a baby now. He says it smells like Carnation when the baby shits. He says the baby came out sticky with a full of head of air, a hairy ass, a small back covered in black hairs. He looked at the baby one and said, “That’s my son.”
- Take your shiny stones and put them back in the slots where my eyes were before. Like Gandhari, tie a white sheet around your eyes. Take penance for 1000 years.
- Wield your internal sight like a weapon. Like all the persons before you, tell me you’ll sew me back together afterwards.
- Return me to the cave where I was born, naked, sightless. Tell me about my nephew. Tell me how he sings.
2 parallel streets
How many bodies before this one, between the paisley sheets and space, refusing to move? How many Tuesday evenings with rice grains stuck on my lips? The shards do not protect me. There is nothing sharp about me. I’m a dull spoon shuffling to the gas station and a man stares at me, takes a sniff. The smell is my morning blood and my knees start to tremble. Say “thank you” says the most handsome car at the gas station.
My brain is a wild tree surrounded by a lightning storm. In this universe, you can’t touch it. A man shines me on his leg - an act of violence that I endure everyday. I catch myself in the mirror later, my teeth have come to points. My skin, red and gleaming. A woman come unstuck from a painting. My psychic teenage heart agonizes over my ugliness. My fists make sense. Say “thank you” says the hand on my chin.
I learned vanity late in life. My mother has shapely feet, bent and hollowed like the body of a great banyan. They carried her when she ran from St. Paul to Minneapolis, from Minneapolis to Palakkad. My body comes like sleep, unannounced to me and stretching beyond hours. “Thank you,” says the fire that my mother tends to daily. “I’m sorry,” I say to her feet.
The year is 1978.
She wears bell-bottoms and drinks a fresh lime juice.
He has a jam stain on his cotton shirt.
I know this because I am the rickshaw driver and the old mud road.
Because I am the rock pit where she tumbled, bent ankle, face first.
Because the sky was ochre and my favorite color is the sky.
Because I saw them facing each other, so garishly affectionate in their refusal to touch and I yelled, 'Just get on with it.'
The year is 1990.
When the baby throws spoons into the snow,
the spoons become actual birds who float off into the pale horizon
One looks at the other one and says 'coo-ee-oo'
And the other one looks back, regrets leaving the baby and his tiny outstretched paws
Grasping, over many years:
different kinds of string, the type of stick that makes music, and the type that kills
The birds wondered if the baby was good for anything else
besides spitting up hot milk or splitting his lips in a gash of laughter
His parents knew, but like everything else, they saved it for later.
The year is 2012.
Over the telephone, I can see my father's swollen mouth.
And the chutney stain on the inner corner of his lip.
I can see his cotton shirt pulled taut across his hardened abdomen.
It became more and more like lead each year that he stopped loving me.
Now, I have to listen for it very closely.
In between words, I hear him loving me.
It is more like moss than you realize. It is wet and flat and barely noticeable.
It is only noticeable when you catch your foot in the under stuff of a tree root,
when you find yourself tumbling, face first, into dense gray,
When you hope beyond hope that you'll find nothing else besides a soft bed of moss
The year is 2778
At the bar I ask for a glass of milk cuz I got sober 762 Januarys ago.
It is the first anniversary of my mother's death
& I don't feel anything besides cold.
The year is 2008.
I've spent one whole summer stuffing my self-concept into my pussy
so many wet knots, inch after inch after inch
It's the only safe place I know to put myself to make sure I make it out whole.
Because I am the disgusting shade of pink on the walls and because I am the future,
I know that this fighting will not last forever.
I'll practice conflict resolution, like, when he throws the pan so loudly that hot oil splatters your ankle
Like when his teeth are beet red and she holds up a knife
You know, like a comic scene,
that's when I'll suggest a movie or some quality time outside.
The year is 2115
The girl I love moves like a constellation,
Making sense where there was only deep sick dark.
I still instinctively clench my chuchi when she reaches for me.
'There's a whole lot of stuff up there,' I protest
'Theres a gorilla up there. A whole cosmic shuffling, an intensely personal confession, and worse, sometimes it's flat like a Barbie doll'
And she loves me so much she leaves her hands on her eyeballs so I know she's not peeping when I undress.
Can you believe that?
Even after 100 years, she still asks me if I want to take off my clothes.
The year is 3010
I only remember this one thing, but I need to tell it to you three times, each time I remember it:
The last time was a few years before Mama left and she and I stared up at the red sky breaking
She said: I barely even remember it, but your father and I were really in love. Once he took me to a sweet shop in Lucknow and I had one of each kind
We watched the colors mithai pink and deep haldi yellow erupt in the sky as the universe began its slow compression
Before that, in 2014, my father called me when I was walking to my apartment in Minneapolis
You could have been an idiot and known he was drunk
He was lilting his words like they bent in the middle.
Do you remember the time I took your mother to Choudhry Sweets?
Of course I remember, that year was 1985.
I was the thin layer of foil plating the multi colored barfi.
I was the syrupy sweetness pulsing through my mother and reddening her cheeks as she looked towards the man who really loved her.
I was the mithaiwalla who looked at these young kids, stupid with their love, smoking a beedi while the world around me approached heat-death.
But now it is 2015.
It's been one year since I've seen my mom.
I don't realize this until someone else points it out, and then I start to cry.
On her, divorce looks like anxiety on a water buffalo.
She is whole, flesh, effervescent.
There is a seed in her that I see rooted inside me.
It is our first ever real morning and we watch the neighborhood cows come and ask for rice
Mama and I each suck on one mango, the bag of ripe fruit between us.
You're lucky, she tells me, It's mango season