Love, actually.

It takes me the first three decades of my life to become the woman who can write this.

There are two kinds of love. Love. ( The tin-can heart crunching, dream sharpening variety.) And love, actually.

I want to write poetry about love, actually- but let’s face it. My knees are still too scraped, my knuckles too bruised, my eyes a little too achy.

So, I’ll just talk to you about love, actually. The most important part about love, actually- is that it is unromanticized love. It doesn’t begin with a boy meets girl story, though a few times, it has. It doesn’t belong in a meet cute, although my best friend will tell our meet-uncute story like it is one.

It is the way she calls me nearly every evening, because she senses I need it. It is the way he always buys me postcards whenever he travels, writes them, puts them in an envelope and mails me a bunch, every few months or so- just because. It is the way he does this without asking me to return the favor. It is the strings of origami stars around my house that someone else’s hands made, without wanting me to give them a sky. It is the perfect set of white curtains that my friend chose for my room when I couldn’t go shopping with her, because she knows me. It is the way someone rode a train to come and see me a day after an accident. It is unconditional cupcake supply love. It is the fact that someone will always tease me to make me laugh on days when I’m cracking grim jokes. It is my sister sending me voice notes at multiple times through the day. It is my best friend, holding my hand, telling me I’m home, she’s right here. It is Unicorn’s voice on the phone, grainy honey and kindness- telling me it is alright to be myself. It is my father calling me to check I drove home safe. It is my mother’s awkward arms around me, her insistence that breakages will always heal. It is the message my friend sends me the day I think of her, even though we haven’t spoken in months. It is another friend choosing music for a road trip, and packing me breakfast, and feeding me when I drive. It is the way our laughter spills over one of the bluest mornings together. It is the way she listens so hard to me that I stop talking about life and am able to talk about death, before I go back to talking about life. It is someone telling his sister that I’m his best friend. It is a gift, offered without thought of return, a joke that wraps its arms around me and won’t stop tickling, it is the spontaneous hug she gave me when I accidentally talked about the other love and kind of had to stop.

There’s the kind of love that shoots your heart to stars, and scorches it into fragments. There’s the kind of love that makes you feel emptied, restless, heartsick in it’s absence.

There’s the kind of love as simple as the unconditional ground beneath your feet, the infinite bounce of air in your lungs. The love that has no name, no glitter, no billboard. The love that will not simply end if you make a mistake, say the wrong set of sentences, collide too hard in misunderstanding. The love that will wait. The love which continues to walk with you no matter how confused, complicated, broken and ashamed you are. The love that continues to look at your face without judgement, only tenderness. The love that steadies your spine, tells you that no matter how lost you are- it trusts your heart is in the right place. The love that says, I see you, I only seek to love you, and I will not forsake you. The love that does not choose if you are worthy of loving or leaving, but stays just because. The love that exists because you helped bring it into existence, as well.  I asked her why she hadn’t left yet. ” Sweetheart, I learned to stay from you.” The love that we teach each other, through simply paying attention and showing up.

There is the love that turns you to ash in it’s wake.

And there is the love that refuses to judge you, walks with you, each achy step of the way, picks up your 6am phone call, books a cab and shows up because it does not exist to forsake you. It exists to love you, actually.

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Cutting away

It’s been eight months.

Your hair is so pretty.

My hair keeps falling.

Long hair suits you.

Strands break when I run my fingers through

Please don’t cut your hair.

Autumn in my head.

There is a wedding in the family.

Was there a lot of hairfall? I ask the girl who washed my hair. ” There was. Still is.” she pauses, combing out my wet hair. I can feel strands breaking. Again.

So, how much shall we cut?

All the damaged parts.

But it’s grown so long! 

All the damaged parts.

It grows really quickly.

I know. It’ll be fine by the time the wedding comes around.

It’s quite heavy, your hair. Thick. Weighs it down.

I know, but I don’t want it thinned.

I don’t understand how N mixes math with intuition. We talk, and she continues to pull handfuls of hair, and snip. Over and over again. I don’t understand how my hair will end up looking symmetrical at the end, but I don’t need to, since I fundamentally trust her.

By the time my hair has been dried into falling the right way, I’m already feeling better. This is what the right length feels like. Light. My hair feels surprisingly thicker, and stronger. It isn’t straggly or brittle anymore. I run my hands through it. Nothing breaks. I exhale.

Much better, I smile. It’s all good again.

I don’t look at the parts of my chopped up hair on the floor. For now, feeling an absence is a good thing. For now, I can run my hands through my hair without being afraid. For now, in leaving parts of me behind, it feels like something has been returned.

 

 

 

A 10.30 phone call on Wednesday/ Trees in the distance.

For H.

 

You call me up. I can already hear your heart breaking in the background. We know the sound of each other’s heart breaking. It is recognizable because it is familiar. Your voice is a thread. I hold on to it. We wait. You talk. I listen. The thread runs through my hands.

We do not know how we got here. Girls in childhood frocks who only wanted to play house, and never yell across the room. Women who’ve worn boots to battlefields, and walked back barefoot. We inhabit the world like kindred spirits, careful to be kind, and secret when we are fragile. It is a fragility we recognize the other carries. It is the phantom heart that sings to us when we close our eyes.

Our dreams have been simple as sugar. Love, arriving. Love, staying. Love, never leaving.

Our lives have been salt. Love, arriving. Love, hesitating. Love, leaving. Love, returning. Love, hesitating. Love, hurting. Love, leaving. Love- Perhaps we have loved the wrong way, left the door far too wide open, waited too hard on the doorstep, given love more middle names, more sweetness, more infinity than it ever deserved. Together, we try so hard to understand why some horizons are beyond our reach. I keep telling you there is nothing wrong with your hands, or your eyes. You tell me the same thing.

Salt and sugar. We wonder.

I wish I could buy you a pearl string of YESSES, to wear around your neck, for each maybe you’ve heard and had to swallow. I wish I could grow you a jasmine creeper that no hurricane would ever touch. I wish I could make you a mirror from everything you’ve shown me about who you are. I wish I could find a spell that would take us back to childhood, sugar and then forward to a horizon where we could spend the rest of our days planting trees that stand tall. Like promises. Like affirmations. Like they were born for sunshine, and strength and flowering. Like all the happy endings we are capable of building with our bare hands. Every single last one.

Love

Crunches your heart like a tin soda can. Throws it in the trash can. Takes it out. Your heart is now a flower. Plucks the petals. Won’t stop plucking. Until the stalk remains. It falls on ground. A red shoe steps on it. The wind blows it to a crack in the sidewalk. The stalk turns into seed. Someone must have wished really hard for a tree. Maybe those very lovers who will carve  a heart with their initials into it three decades and seven years later. Maybe those people who believed they could give this love a shape, a name.

 

***

Love. Crunches your heart like a tin soda can. Kicks it off the sidewalk. The rain weeps over it. Paint melts in a hailstorm. Love sneaks up behind you. Flirts with breath, takes it away. Now, the space in your chest and the space in the crunched tin soda can is the same. You find it on the sidewalk. You pick it up, but it doesn’t feel like litter. So you walk, holding the tin can in your left hand, the same way you hold your crunched heart in your rib cage. Awkwardly. Not knowing what to do with it. Wanting to hold on, not being able to let go.

 

***

Love. Crunches your heart like a tin soda can. But uncrunches it at once, so suddenly it’s just the way it was, except for the marks. Is it empty? Who knows? But who cares, because we’re dreaming. We’re dreaming of tin soda cans that turned into themselves again, we’re dreaming that the emptiness doesn’t matter, we’re dreaming that someone cut the top off it and turned it into a candle stand or a flower vase. The candle flames will never burn out.  The flowers will never wilt.

And I will never wake you up to whisper that it was a dream.

Jump

April was a shit month,

Although, if you’re a poet,

There is no such thing.

There is still the way the sunlight fell on the branches at 2.40pm,  and the rajasthani sky turned bluer than you would believe, and an old woman held out a garland for you to take to the temple, underneath  the sanctuary of her wrinkled, familiar smile.

There was the way that anger rusted a part of you into a stone that could not be broken. And the way arms fitted around you, in those moments where gravity hurt more than usual. And the way your father continued to wake up and make you a fruit smoothie each morning.

And the way you hid things from people who loved you, because you wanted to spare them the knowing. The way that your mind played tricks on itself, just to survive- and someone said PTSD and you understood what they were getting at. And the way that after 23 days of daily poetry, something tripped you so bad, that for a while, you weren’t able to put words to paper.

April might have been a shit month, but it ended with your feet on the ground.

And now they want to jump.

 

Things I need

Three spoons of sugar

A little forgetting.

A tree wrapped around my backbone

Ocean air, salty-

with a hint of french fries.

A horizon that has held me in its arms before

A lullaby that feels like feathers

A puppy, asleep in my lap

The sun on my face, through the leaves –

While the wind braids all the worries in my hair

into echoes.

Backbone Burnout

” You’re not going to be able to help everyone. You need to know this.”
” I know this. I do. But I don’t know what I’m meant to do knowing this. Stop trying?”

***

Days when your head
Is too heavy for your backbone
So you need a shoulder

Just to exhale
Tired.
Can’t.
Go-
On.

While hands stroke your hair
Like tomorrow
Will be another day
Like tomorrow
Will not
be the same.
Like tomorrow
Your backbone
Will carry your head
Again

Staccato

When your anger
Seizes your hair
Drags you across the threshold

Do not dig your feet into ground
Instead, surrender.

Instead,
Go limp. Let yourself be pulled into the fire.

You will not return the same.

Deciding to be full

The breakfast buffet that you ended up flirting with-
(Shouldn’t do that again.)

Pizza at 3pm.
(Love, again. So much so that you need to KNOW where the mozzarella cheese came from.)

I ignore home cooked dinner in favour of emptiness.
Everyone else has seven different tastes on their plates.

At the temple, ash and sugar.

My aunt’s house. Dinner has leftovers.
(In my defence, she makes really good dhokla. And it’s been 5 hours since I ate.)

For all practical intents and purposes,
my grandmother refuses to count any eating outside her home as legitimate.

So here I am, at 10pm mixing dal-chawal with a spoon
And my grandmother standing in the kitchen asking me-
Tumne roti nahi khayi, kyun?

Sit here. Eat.

IMG-20170411-WA0005It is useless to try to write a poem about food. Contemplating the meals I have eaten on the marble floor of my grandmother’s house, I remind myself, it is useless to try and write a poem about food. A love that tastes like the first food you’ve eaten, cannot be explained. The simple fact that someone loves you enough to cook your favorite food when you visit, cannot be elaborated on. The bare reality that we need to eat to survive, need food to nourish us since we are born, cannot be altered. A meal is just a meal, after all. But a meal is my grandmother’s hands in the dough, her hands tossing the sabzis, the way she tries harder to make this meal special, the way she nags me to eat more when I’m already full. A meal is the most elemental offering of nourishment. I am not skilled enough to turn a love like this into a poem that makes sense. But, here is the first, incomplete attempt.

***

It is impossible to write a poem about food.

Still-

My grandmother makes a meal of memories
Tastes my mouth has nearly forgotten.

It is impossible to write a poem about-

how your memories from the mouth of your childhood, can be fitted into a plate and touched, tasted, swallowed, and lost inside you

Grain and vegetable turn into something nourishing blood, breath and bone.

The food I am fed
Becoming the way I stretch my arms before sleep,                                                                     Laughter rising from my throat,                                                                                                         heartbeats, the filling and emptying of my lungs.
It is a simple plate of food,                                                                                                                   and everything tastes familiar.

It is my grandmother loving me in the uncomplicated way I will strive to love  too-

You are here. Here is dinner.                                                                                                               Eat.