Even as a child,
I knew the power
of invisibility: many dark dawns I
spent pretending to be asleep
while my mother dressed. I would watch
her from beneath the covers, with only
one eye open.
She'd stand in
front of the mirror,
the white light of the lamp like
ivory dust on her skin. Unlike
other women I knew, there were
no glittering golden bottles on her
dressing-table. No drawers
packed with her make-up kit.
She wore a cotton petticoat, clinging
to her waist like a parasol. A blouse
sticking to her breasts—my first lesson
in female anatomy. Her hair down,
soon recomposed into a bun,
hanging like a tennis-ball on her neck.
During summer months, the weight
of that ball would burst into
ripe little heat-rashes.
Her sari hung on the back of a chair
flat like unleavened bread in the absence
of her limbs. She would unfold
the twelve-hand fabric, wrapping
it around her bones, tightening
the pleats around her hips and waist,
caressing the fabric so it would not remain
the drooping flatbread it was before
she had offered her body as a sacrifice.
But the sari had a mind of its own--
a will to escape. It wound itself around
her body's cage, coiled like a snake,
leaving random bruises on the skin
Invisible, pretending to be asleep,
I knew, even then, she could have
opted for something else
But she needed those knots around her
body to keep her firmly in place.
She was afraid of straying.
Just By Sheer
My father does not impose
any curfews on me.
He doesn't even try to prevent me from
staying out too late.
He holds me instead, in the arch of his wings
heavy on my shoulders—pressing them down.
With his arms on my slouch, he accompanies me
every where—late night screenings of Fellini, smoke-laden
coffee-shops, dimly-lit bars
with the same precision he used to browse through
my grade-school satchel every morning
I dream about roaming in and out of the neon-lights
of a night-city. All alone. My shoulders straight
My hands closing around strangers' stories like a fist--
in the same way
as I once dreamt of leaving behind
the lunch-box at home
just by sheer mistake
Nandini Dhar's poems have appeared or are
forthcoming in Muse India,
Kritya, Mascara Literary Review,
Off the Coast, Pratilipi, tinfoildresses, First Literary Review,
Hawaii Review, Prick of the
Spindle, Cabinet des Fees, Stonetelling, lingerpost, Up The
Staircase, Cartographer: A Literary Review, Penwood Review and
Asia Writes. A Pushcart nominee,
Nandini grew up in Kolkata, India,
and received an M.A. in Comparative Literature from
Calcutta and another M.A. in
Comparative Literature from the
University of Oregon. Currently, she is a Ph.D. Candidate
in Comparative Literature at University
of Texas at Austin.