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Raena Shirali

Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), which won the Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. She is an editor and teacher, and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

By This Poet

1

ojha : rituals

Ojhas are [medicine men, “the ones next to God,” religious ministers or priests who deal with the daily struggles of the village people]; this dynamic allows the village ojha to control the circulation of rumors, and he is the village member who has the power to trap daayans (witches). In some trials, the ojha reads grains of rice, burn marks on branches, and disturbances in the sand around his residence, for signs of a daayan.

 
certain beliefs precede his name & yet
he goes by many : dewar, bhagat,
 
priest. passive ear, the kind
 
of listener you’d give
your own face.
 
+
 
first, the village must [agree
that spirits exist]—some benevolent,
some deserving of fear. everyone
 
wants their universe
to have reason. so it must be
a woman who stole your portion
 
of rice, woman who smeared
your doorstep’s rangoli, woman
who looked sideways at your child.
 
+
 
give him your gossip & the ojha conjures
herbs to [appease the evil] : her raving,
innocent mouth. & by that token
what is truth. the other rumors,
 
too, could corroborate—that bullets
pass through, his body barely
there but for the holy
in his hands.
 
+
 
he chants her name with fingers
pushed into his ears. just the sound
of her bangles
undoes : a single woman
 
on a plot of land, unbecoming.
he reads her guilt [in grains
of rice, in the light of a lamp,
using a cup which moves
 
and identifies]. makes a circle
around himself. white sand
between him &
the world. it’s the dead hour.
 
now, he shouts, arms covered
in ants, sing.