Names for Hunger

On the walk back from 
the therapist to the office
you rub your chest and say

It’ll be all right, my gurgush
There’s a clusterfuck waiting at work,
things that really aren’t personal

but slice you up anyway
You’ll be all right, my malai ka doona
It’ll all get done, my chhunmunita

You think of your mother
whose love birthed all these names
How often she hurt you

and it dawns on you, like a flash
of lightning on an airplane: 
love is a bagad billa

At the pantry, you feed yourself
a boxed lunch of baingan and channa
and remember how she once

stood at the door, hours 
after she locked you up in a room 
a plate of aloo parathas in her hand

and a look that said you were ok now,
the anger under your relief
You swallow the last morsel, feeling
it graze your heart.
Back at work, hungry again.


Copyright © 2023 by Mrigaa Sethi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 7, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“I lived in Singapore during the pandemic, and for a time my temporary office happened to be across the street from my therapist’s. After one particularly impactful session, I came back to my office and reheated my lunch of homemade Indian leftovers. They used to cause me great shame when I was a little immigrant kid, but in adulthood bring me great joy. This poem resulted from the collision of my ‘work self’ with some other selves that had lingered after therapy.”
—Mrigaa Sethi