If women marry their fathers, do they also give birth to their husbands?

Walking into fire – of course
that was stupid. But have you
never been there, so in love
you cannot spot violence?

Abandonment is easy,
a brother’s message, a waiting
carriage, no room for conversation.

What hurt:
The demand I raise my sons
to be good kings. I dreamt only
of human boys, good husbands.

What hurt:
I raised sons like him, thirsty
eyes following unknown father
to homes they’d never lusted for.

What hurts:
Three thousand years of this
story, and he is still god.

~~~

I have learned to speak of your selfishness

the way I speak of peeling paint on monsoon wall,
neither complaint nor judgment. Just quiet
acceptance, something I need

to point out the way everyone
in this mountain town says constantly,
“Do you hear that? The rain is coming!”

We plan our evenings around the lashing,
and yet at every street corner and bus stop,
temple and grocery shop, the constant

question, “Do you hear that?” As if
danger were not its own warning, as if
the sky weren’t loud enough without us.

~~~

A Fear of Particular Men

She: I am covered in stainless steel and clingfilm.
He: Is that the most naked you will ever be now?
She: My thigh is a valley abandoned by echoes
He: But echoes are born out of valleys.
She: I will never be brutal, but I want to feel free enough for
brutality.
He: And I am?
She: Free? Or brutal?
He: Must protection always be about war?
She: This is only a quiet locking of the door.
He: I thought gratitude was your favorite word.
She: Sometimes a butterfly becomes a caterpillar.
He: Are you abandoning color?
She: I am folding inwards, that is all.
He: Nature allows no do-overs.
She: So why do you get so many?

~~~

Serpentine

So many months later, you still crawl
the insides of my skin. When I say
shudder, I still mean you. Over months
of silence, you’ve burrowed deeper, still
surfacing at slightest temptation.

In Goa, they build snake-resistant
homes, floors free of friction,
an unbearable smoothness.

I was never smooth. And you
are still inside me, still
without permission.

~~~

There is No Bhadra in this Kali

This isn’t a red carpet. It is a tongue
rolled out in your welcome. Home
is seven steps away. Re-enter,

if you choose, but through the mouth.
(Do you dare to walk through? Do you
trust you will not be chewed to bits?)

Watch these pink corners curl in dryness
and disgust. They remember your throbbing,
your silence, each blood-drop turning demon.

This tongue is a mocking of gentle
devotees, a knowledge of hard flesh
against lips, the only destruction

worth memory. I lied. It isn’t
a doormat. But it is red, still.

~~~

For the Men who Swallow Their Wives Whole

Written at the Zeus temple in Athens, Greece

Wait for the hammering. It will begin
slowly. Beware of axes. They will burst
your head open.

(I was raised
to break out.)

I will win battles and cities,
health and horses, the highest
hill for my temple. You will fall,
eventually, in concentric circles.

(Don’t call me dear. I am
despite you.)

Friends bring me mirrors, remind me
of myself. I remain, mostly, in pieces,
the woman you swallowed,
fighting for space.

(I am my mother’s protest.)

I will be, eventually, a goddess
of olive branches. But first,
(and remember this): I will
burst your head open.

(When Metis was pregnant with Zeus’s child, he was told the child would go on to overpower him. Zeus swallowed Metis to prevent this, but soon after, he developed a splitting headache and the other gods to crack open his skull with an axe. Athena, Zeus and Metis’ daughter, emerged out of his head, fully formed.)

~~~

The Calm After the Storm

There is no more fear, only the knowledge
of rubble, the blank echo of high pitched
voices in once-bursting rooms. Rebuilding

is a theoretical possibility; we did not
plan for it. We talked only of storms
and so much damage. The empty light

fixtures have questions. The curtain rods
are trying to stand back up. We cannot
promise them a home again.

~~~

Yashodhara’s Enlightenment

Do you remember me still bleeding
while you fled, our son still learning
to cry? The gods, they say, silenced
your horses’ hooves. Seven years
of silence. Yellow robes, stone floors.

The son gurgling, asking, falling, giggling,
walking, upright and doubled over, prince
without king, infant without father. I, alone,
with his fears; you, alone, with your need
for something that outlasts us.

You ran with your pain, I stayed
with mine. This is the meaning
of parent. The world remembers
your Bodhi tree, mine was the harder
enlightenment: tight chest, whole eyes.

Siddhartha, we could have been more
than guilty desire, love cannot be
the opposite of faith. Give me your hand.
This matters. You are kindness now,
and forgiven. But I am my own refuge.

Excerpted with permission from A Kind of Freedom Song, Aditi Rao, Yoda Press.