Runner-up in the 2011 Alumni Poetry Contest
The humid air hangs like damp saris on a line,
as we ride in the rickshaw past the crow-covered flats of Bengal,
onwards and onwards to grandmother’s grave.
Mother chirps of the bird she had as a child:
“Each morning it made such racket talking to itself.
Hello mynah. How are you mynah?
Hello mynah. How are you mynah?”
Her words flit and feather in the air.
She remembers leaving the bird for a colder continent,
the phone call that came in the oddest of hours.
Strange things had happened that afternoon:
glasses had broken, the stems of her roses had snapped,
a clock had stopped – all forewarning the passing.
“I could not go back to see her.
I could not go back to see her.”
Not long after, grandmother’s home was demolished,
new flats put under construction.
Mother had visited them,
held the hems of her pants high above her flip-flops,
which flapped at her heels as she ascended three flights.
Men were working on a lift,
showing just the soles of their feet,
a shower of orange sparks around them —
this, a space waiting to be lived in.
Over the shoulder of the rickshaw wallah,
I can see the beggars who wait at the gates of the graveyard,
and past those gates, row upon row divided by narrow stone walkways,
are the tombs. And somewhere above in the sheltering trees,
is a mynah who has lived here far longer than any visitor has visited,
collecting prayers in many voices.
This is what awaits us when the rickshaw wallah stops pedaling
and we are caught by the sudden quiet.
I peel myself off the seat
and slip out the side.