Five Poems


after Hadara Bar-Nadav

The moon fits into my head

something cool

obliterated of land

this is how some of my family

died: falling into the sea

like scarce petals.

I smell the taste of two oceans

sense an open vein

hear the open-throated myna

sing into oblivion which

ends with my grandmother

leaving home.

Promise me something acidic

to cut through snow

the slow release of water

I kiss my grandmother in dreams

before letting her go again

& sometimes we find a sailboat

encircle borderlines of Karachi

watch lines of smoke blur,

smell its bleached air.

Being suspended by gravity

is like rising bread

shaping whole

I no longer know our names,

our skins, this red continent;

I hear the moon roar.


After the war,

       you always looked

                     for contrasts

you said:: black sesame seeds

       on a white porcelain plate:: a bunch

                           of yellow carnations

inside a blue vase

        light & shadows play

                         upon the ceiling

you cup your palms

        & make-believe

                         the cast to be a toad

& sometimes a dove

        (when they aren’t crawling

                         they fly or jump)

across the off-white

       diameter:: morning again,

                         a few cloves

rest on a demitasse

       like displaced lovers

                        with blistered pulse.

Ghazal for the Nameless

for those lost in Partition 1947

Today thank-yous bloom out of my stomach pit like hallelujahs in a church with lights.

Toads dance around a puddle like they own this place with shimmering lights.

Yesterday I was in the body of another person I do not now recognize.

In the faint of a tunnel, a train disappears, then comes out through the side of lights.

You had been the brown of moss and green of lichen, a hyphenated pause.

You had been a foremother, solitarily making earthen lamps. See, a row of lights.

I look at the pantomime sky above fields of paddy, throw morsels of chapatis for crows.

Where your soul resides must be inside violet bulbs of flowers, like lights.

I want to show you my reflection in a clear blue lake and sit for hours talking to birds.

I want to bring you rain like a toddler with small hands, the way you left us a legacy of lights.

Under another sky

after Chelsea Dingman

I kneel to an unseen God

    said to be omnipresent

           further than the eye.

The first death for a mother

    is that of her own body,

           making lists wearing

a pastel lavender hospital

     gown. If I could wear

           God as an ornament

I would choose a radium dial

     that would glow in the dark.

           The body porously

held by its weight of excess.

    I learn that shadows are

           familiar to mothers.

I won’t say a one winged bird

    is a metaphor for the way

          your body is cut or how

the bunch of daisies kept by your

    bedside is no consolation

          for loss. I invoke God

and my hands are full with rain.

    You can grieve until all you

         are left with is the earth

quietly spewing snow. Give me

    a body that carries its wound

        like an elegy without a coffin.

I touch something almost holy under

   this pink sky. Tell me it is the hand

        of my infant, with the scent of

baby powder in his armpits. Say the

   sky fills earth with trees so we feel

        less lonely. That even if we’re

on earth briefly, it is beautiful. That

    our bodies hold more than their

         weight. That we hold a portion

            of a sunlight dappled patch in

our embryos. That our soft bones fill

         our infants with enough warmth

            to last until the next silent spring

passes through our land. That our wombs

         thaw through another sunrise. That

            the body will go on creating.

of smallness & small gods

after Arundhati Roy

since you are hungry     they send you to school      stuff your mouth

with consonants and vowels        say these are good words        use them

these are off limits for you          do not utter them           you become a baraka

between yourself & god                pay attention to orchids outside

the classroom window   & think they committed suicide    in spring

the thing about hunger is               there will always be leftovers

because somebody was not hungry enough        or hungry for something else

I stole nickels           from nani’s almirah & brought hardcover notebooks

stitched with        silk zardosis on the edges                        went to a garden

& emptied my smallness in its pages            & collected dead petals as harvest

one day                   I glued all the dead petals           into geometrical shapes

after decay / devastation / deportation / disappointment / dismantling

the living           left behind            try to keep the dead alive

& the hungry          stay unfed               evoke the god of small things

some words are not meant for me             sisters of the convent reprimand

my sickness as        you played that Indian festival of colors and water, didn’t you?

I shake my head to take the Indianness out of me        and say no I did not

but my smallness, a nazm amid    the vast glory of white building tops is unseen

& I evoke the hunger         the gurgle the yearning of sunlit terraces

& mosqueblue tiles    & say eashwar allah jesus  in one breath   sigh in hallelujahs

at home nani asks if I am hungry & I say haan. She says     masahallah, meri jaan

because a small god is also = refugee & refugee children & refugee grandchildren

& the smallness of a mango seed & the black night when mogras bloom  

because a small god is also ≠ a country / state / belief / language

everything         the lips say is a prayer                & hunger is when it rains

& a thousand barren fields         become green & you hold a patch of earth in your

palm & say shukran                   & mercy is     the same color as petals of a gulab

nani says home is where the sun breaks even & a small tulsi grows in the aangan.

Sneha Subramanian Kanta is a recipient of The Charles Wallace Fellowship at the University of Stirling (2019). A GREAT scholarship awardee, she has earned her second postgraduate degree in literature from England. She is the founding editor of Parentheses Journal, and reader for Palette Poetry and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She is the author of Land: Body / Ocean: Muscle (forthcoming with dancing girl press). Twitter handle: @SnehaSKanta.

Barzakh Mag