(Aditi Rao is the winner of Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize 2011 that was given to her at HLF. She read these poems at the awards function.)
The International Mango Festival
is a real festival, an annual two day extravaganza,
the only ritual my grandfather, a good Marxist,
allowed himself. Each year, he drove his white Contessa
(five/ nine/ eleven year old me chattering in the backseat),
led me through human throngs and sweet mango smells.
The heat did not matter. The crowds did not matter.
There were magic shows, mango slogan writing
competitions, and mango eating contests for women.
But we simply walked from stall to stall, cradling the fruits
in our palms, sniffing for flavor, touching tentatively,
feeling their pulse. Sometimes, I would rub my thumb
in little circles on the mango's skin, carry its scent home with me.
I never believed the watermelon sized mangoes, and I refused
to take the plum sized ones seriously. Still, there was joy
in watching those first encounters, shy unveilings
of brides to worlds they had been sheltered from. The Sindoori,
with its blush, greeting the Safeda's pale grandeur. The syrupy Alfonso
in its first meeting with a spicy pickle. The shock on a mango's face
at this other, this who-is-this-other, this other-I-didn't-know-existed.
While tourists flocked to the special events, my grandfather and I
pressed our ears to the mangoes and listened. We learned their secrets.
Sometimes, When Prayers are Shouted from Rooftops, the Echoes are the Answers
Yesterday, I ran through a park, high-fiving strangers
in costume. We reassured each other that people
who stared were jealous. We enjoyed each other.
But tonight, the midnight pianist who lives upstairs is silent,
and my roommate has been asleep for hours. Even the mice
have tired of their games. I would put myself to bed,
promise these words their turn tomorrow, but ever since
my friend's sickness swallowed her speech, I cannot think
in future tense. I cannot speak, except like this.
Do you remember the first slipper the sea sucked
off an unsuspecting beach – the blue disappearance?
Do you remember how secure the sand felt before?
Do you remember shoulders unhindered
by favorite ghosts, twilights when eyelids sealed
without glue? Do you remember waking up
in untrembling rooms, those sure steps we took? Remember
when the clock's swollen hands pushed time forward? Before
the ice in our chests, the goldfish that swam there?
"Everyone needs a place. It shouldn't be inside of someone else." — Richard Siken
After you left
for the land where no one dances
in the rain, I discovered worlds
too big for my palms.
I hid our moments of salt and stone
in thickets of blue bamboo. Still
they scamper onto skin, tumble
through arms, settle in hair.
Their scent lingers, brick dust
on rock. Some mildew.
I harvest the rest.
Somewhere, a language has no word
for remember. Yesterday is always
happening, never more
than today, or last year.
Do you ever retie the pulsera, smile
at the Zapatista postcard? Fondle
initials scratched on coffee cup?
Do you still sing the story of shoelace?
I have sock drawers stuffed full
of memories I am afraid of
forgetting at the doctor's
or the supermarket.
Did I mention rust
is my favorite color?
I kept your t-shirt.
If you wanted to come back, would you
find your way? The birds ate the crumbs.