New Delhi, 1965
I took the train from Patiala, left the girls with Ayah, and lied, I'm with Faye and Daisy. Had to say what he'd approve of. Go then, Kiran said, crushing large rupees in my hand. Have I been here a week? I've slept so long I can't remember who was with me last night in bed, that figure leaning against the door? Did he leave me this gold bangle? I can feel its heft around my wrist, knobs and crests, a design from the high Mogul period of Aurangazeb. I have come to Delhi to remember our ancient past—so little, a bangle, what else? When it slid over my hand, I opened myself like a book and you hear its private pulsing. In the quiet he said, Put your hand here to save your place. I put my hand there, and he pressed it. He sat with me a minute, and he went away, left something to hinge me in the wind of myself, to calm my legs. Empire is large land and I can't touch it. A smile is a root my mother said don't bother. I am small. I married a dark talent from a small world. Until he asked me to drop my shawl and slid his finger on my shoulder, let me taste our leisure. I read him. I peeled back lies. I had harped on grandeur, but the Taj Mahal and Rome are a fantasy. What's left is my darkness. He spoke to me of skin and I touched it. Until he asked me to drop my shawl and slid his finger on my shoulder, let me taste our leisure. It required my defiance of the small world. He asked would you, and I said I would. I read him. I drank up my history and peeled back the glossy lies. I had harped on former grandeur, but the Taj Mahal and Rome are a fantasy. What's left is my darkness. He spoke to me simply of skin and I touched it. For so many years I kept my mantra: they are great and I am small. I've slept. I've tasted my own milk. I'll raise my girls, then I'll be back to taste the morning.
This poem first appeared in Callaloo, Fall 1999. © 1999 by Reetika Vazirani. All rights reserved. Used with permission.