M For

Lying down in a dark room with a headache
is a kind of female history.

The curtains drawn and the children tip-toeing
– even the ones we haven’t had yet.

The rain slowing down on the AC is the one
bearable summer sound

as a cool cloth shields us from our temples
caving. The way our bodies fail –

they call this softness. We have had to come
home early, turn off lights to survive,

to ask for silence like a spoonful of sugar
from the neighbour.

Teaching ourselves a new alphabet, M is always
for maven or maverick, and making do.

Drawing deep circles with oil on foreheads, we
treat ourselves with repetition: it’s okay, it’s okay.

In Sickness & In Health

When my body reaches for & does
not arrive, my girlfriends hold

me as their own in a portico
of light welding into possibility.

One is young. We sleep with string
on a small bed like siblings.

One has a heart like a canoe & a
house with a constricted staircase.

I creak down in the mornings
to find her with tea, readying

the toast to hold together the day.
One is older & knows how to leave

a place without guilt, trusts me
with a canvas & paint: there is nothing

you can do wrong. When telling a vein
from an illusion, a jacaranda from

a stub is beyond my powers, this is
their work: to lift a dropped stitch,

to move the needle tediously forward,
looping detail in yarn till I am ready.


When I reach to console her on a New Year’s Eve,
(the first time in her brief life she has been alone) I am taken
aback by my own direction – kneeling to a love that falls from me,
whether I want it to or not, that grows inside me the same as sweat
or snot or pus. Forgive the lack of diplomacy. This is sometimes what
love comes to, searching for a person who doesn’t want to be found,
who needs her own kindness and when she fails to give it to herself, it pours
out from me. It feels natural, even god-given for a minute, before she gives
it back. And really, who would want this kind of weak love anyway.

Medical History

After Nicole Sealey

Alprax for my aunt’s divorce. Alprax for the nights
my sister isn’t coming home. Two disprin and a glass
of lemonade for the bi-weekly headache. I have never
been pregnant, though I’m told often it buds and ebbs,
and no one ever knows. A whole pond of possibility
quietly blooming and evaporating on its own. Crepe
bandages for an old football injury. Iron supplements
monthly for dizziness from blood loss during periods.
Anti-allergy tablets for cockroaches, mould, and milk.
My mother had a knee surgery at 50 for a bone sliver
dislodged at age 15. In the 70s, no one paid attention
to breaks and scrapes. Anti-depressants after heart
surgery for my grandfather. Back brace and around
the clock bed rest for one grandmother and a walker
for the other. Sleeping tablets for travel, for bad fights
before bed-time. Heart attacks on both sides of my
family tree. I have nightmares from the afternoon
the doctor suspected I might have cancer, and thrust
a probe inside me without warning. I counted from one
to a hundred after she called me very, very difficult
for screaming in pain. Forgive me if I can’t complete
this history. If there are facts I don’t want to record.
I tried my best to both be honest and to redirect
my punches towards the water behind the house.

We Are A Few Burials Overdue

My father still wakes my mother in the dead
of night screaming – catches her mid-dream.

Suspended between two unreal ports
their rift washes away like anthills in rain.

I think of his mind as fresh
soil over rocky terrain.

My father buried one thing every day
for a long time.

I imagine, sometimes, that he will dig
out Dehradun litchis,

and an oak chest full of blue letters
written to my grandfather.

The lines of my childhood have run straight
as he ensured.

He doesn’t understand whom or
what I fear.

He thinks of my mind as a hurricane
in a landlocked country.

He looks at me and sometimes
wants to bury me too.

Excerpted with permission from Terrarium, Urvashi Bahuguna, Great Indian Poetry Collective.