Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Dream of the Evil Servant

New Delhi, 1967

                1.
We kept war in the kitchen.
A set of ten bone china plates, now eight.
As if a perfumed guest stole her riches . . .


The next day she wanted to leave at noon.
I said, be back by four, I'm paying you.
She sat by the door,   
she put out her hand,  
her knuckles knocked against mine,
hard deliberate knuckles. I gave her cash.
Off to watch movies, off to smoke ganja.


                2.
She came back late and high as if my fear asked for it.
I called her junglee.
Everything went off late -- 
dinner, the children getting into bed;
but the guests understood: 
they had servants too.


She stuck diaper pins in my children.
I cursed her openly.  Who shouted?
Or I cursed her silently and went my way.
She stole bangles my husband's mother bought,
bangles a hundred years old.  But she wore frayed jewelry
hawked on the street.  She was like a rock that nicked
furniture in corners you'd think only a rat could go.


                3.
Why didn't I dismiss her?
I don't know.  
She got old as I got old.
I could see her sharp shoulder bones
tighten, her knuckled skull. 
I had to look at her.  It had to wound me.
Listen, said my mother. Yes mother, I listened, crouched in my head.


Looking over the flowered verandah she said:
Who are you to think you are beautiful?
What have you got to show?  
Go sit on your rag.
All my life I tended to looks,
they betrayed me. I bore you. 
I am wretched.  Be my mother.  Be my maid.

Credit


This poem first appeared in The Kenyon Review, Spring 1999. © 1999 by Reetika Vazirani. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Author


Reetika Vazirani

Born in India in 1962 and raised in Maryland, poet Reetika Vazirani received the 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her book, World Hotel

Date Published: 1999-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/dream-evil-servant