after Hadara Bar-Nadav
The moon fits into my head
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
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
I no longer know our names,
our skins, this red continent;
I hear the moon roar.
After the war,
you always looked
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
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.