Indian poet and essayist Preeti Vangani presents two of her poems, “Dinner Conversation” that contemplates “loss and the aging of grief” and “Fade-Out: Hymn” that meditates upon the “stubbornness to not let go of love that’s past its expiry date.” Due to the mature subject matter in the second poem, reader discretion is advised.
My father, with the kitchen scissors, cuts the tiniest hole
in the restaurant’s chutney packet. I ask him to pass
those on to cut open the tied plastic bag of vadas,
already losing their crunch. He puts the metal down
on the table. Then I lift it up. Because we believe
handing over sharp objects by hand forebodes a fight.
The marigolds on my mother’s funeral frame are still alive.
We share a bowl, eat the dosa straight from the single leaf
it came wrapped in. Less dishes, less mess.
We are a ministry of less.
We are four unslept eyes and a race
to the remote’s volume high button.
I mute the possibility that he skimped on her treatment.
Like a subtle chutney that never lets its final ingredient
be known, he is holding back his urge to disclose
he will remarry. I swallow the sambar’s drumstick whole
with skin. Flip the channel from news to comedy.
He leaves to wash his hands. I could identify his
agitated gargling from planets away. The scissor lies
split open between what’s leftover. Why isn’t mum
smiling wider in this photo we’ve chosen? If she were
here there would be no blades while eating.
She could untie even the most invisible knots.
I switch the light on at sundown, kiss my hand, vaporub it
on my chest imitating mum, the way she prayed
to all sources of light. I want to find a way to pray
to my desire, this beast more loyal than any family I’ve had
or chosen, a cage-pacing hungry lion. Kiss the heat
of its ravenous floor, sprinkle it with holy water, bless
its recurring birth, mysterious as heads of waterfalls.
All of last year, I brought your name to the page
as a knife that could sculpt the shapes of our bodies,
slice the curves of our resentments. When I read us
out loud, they clapped when I said cum, went crazy
when I said sex. That line about love though got
not the laugh I wanted it to. I prayed once, to you
in song with that cornball of a refrain: Tujhmein
rab dikhta hai, yaara main kya karoon?
In you I see a god too, friend, what do I do?
Sajde sarr jhukta hai, yaara main kya karun?
Like a trader now, I am trying to write you off
as a bad debt in the books of my body. But how can I forget
I am still the daughter of a businessman who once scribbled
love songs on borders of outstanding bills, receipts and refund
slips. How do I then make a prayer of forgetting? How do I
sift your skin from the skin of my want and with what
must I graft the face of separation? Just before we left home,
dad or I, for an exam or a deal, mum used to place a sugar cube
on our tongue. For fate to go easy on us. So now before I enter
another body, I let your name swell and dissolve in my mouth.