The Vegetarian and other poems

The Vegetarian and other poems

The Vegetarian

Already I remember the good and the bad. Your smile 
at all the right things. The smell of appam flying 
towards us. The waiter setting it down between us. Clang. You ask 

for a bottle of coke. I ask for two glasses of water and one more 
spoon. Behind us, tables of families are digging with their whole hands
smeared orange. I am the only woman wearing pants. You’ll have the chicken, 

right? You’ll love it. I’m thinking of the vegetable stew because it is 
coconutty. I’m thinking if I remember I’m vegetarian, and I do remember 
you have no money. Sure, I’ll share the curry. You’re wearing your black 

sweater, hair spread in clumps against your forehead. I take my fingers 
and sweep them back. You’re looking at the menu you love so much. I am 
bursting with scenes I need to put on the table, listen, remember Rahul? 

Yesterday he had a whole pizza. Listen, I think I want to leave this job,
it’s become so boring; my brain is falling. Listen,
Chait is coming home tomorrow. I’m so happy, maybe I’ll bring him here, 

he likes chicken. Listen, I feel exhausted. But I don’t say anything 
because it’s your turn. Because you have shushed my words. Shhhh,
everyone is staring at us. Because you have erased my fingers

reaching for yours. Because what I want to share 
is not chicken. So I pull back into my mouth, 
ball into one large ball, and swallow.


You have left again. 
Taking care of myself is all that I am left with. 
You always leave. I use expletives 
like always and never and I know 
they don’t make sense and they irritate you so much. I am here 
paralyzed by fixing you into an asshole 
and loving you simultaneously. And I know 
the heart is a muscle, but how many times is it breaking? 
Ask me what I am, and I will tell you I am some sort of 
surrender. Some sort of fist opening into palm 
and thrusting. Is this the muscular version 
of breaking? This stretching outwards into the shape 
of your body and then when you leave, 
this giant hollow-shaped you that is
left. Like slept-in jeans and the body inside
evaporated. I want to take care of myself. Only. Remember this,
muscles are sinuous and tenuous 
and can take the shape of my body. I lit the eight 
tealights in our balcony, rosewood and cedarwood, 
did you never love me? I looked out at them and the smoggy 
cold scent of cracker fumed into my nose and you were there 
in the mist, mooning tall and large. But I had to hold
around my chest, breathing smaller and smaller 
into my arms.

Follow-Up Appointment

I had to spell it — h o p e l e ss n e ss
had to hiss my tongue twice, had to pronounce

right, had to say other words — tired empty hollow
like a bottomless bowl of brass, embossed,

till I tasted the bitter melt of Escitalopram
on the lilt of my tongue standing in front

of the pantry at work; till smiling good morning
colleagues watched my eyebrows knit but didn’t

ask what is this medicine? I had to hear it
from the lady doctor, wise in her metallic zipper

coat, saying let us not taper anymore.
Had to hear my name — Kuhu — had to whisper

Kuhu down my throat, had to rub my palm in circles
around my navel, had to feel the bed flatten

underneath my spine, had to hear her say — Kuhu
you take care of yourself.

Five Stages

Is it odd to extend responsibility
for my body? To say these eyes 
were ok before you came 
and after you turned me on 
the water broke. To say my body isn’t really 
mine, it is an amalgamation 
of all the bodies that have ever touched, 
entered, stroked. Is it odd
to say my lip is curling, my snot is forming 
globules and my head is stiff 
from you entering in and out of it?
(I hadn’t known it was possible. And if I had, 
would I have allowed it?) Consider how malleable
to be so affected. You called me sensitive. 
But I think this smashing of bones, 
this routinic tumbling down five stages 
of grief, then cycling back 
to stage one, is manic, and my doctor 
hasn’t found me a name for it. 
The problem 
is I don’t know the practice of stopping
when the breath becomes so sharp 
you can hear it chipping at your alveoli 
as it filters in. This breath
that has no you in it. When we would lie 
next to each other, our mouths 
facing into, then it was in the air I suppose, the warning, 
the heating up of noses, that this isn’t really 
my body, that I am prone to surrendering.

Love the Feeling is Nothing Without Love the Doing-word

Because I had never seen palm trees
growing wild in the north,
because they spurted so tall

in your grandmother’s city,
I thought we too could grow
in unlikely places.

You said the scars will fade
but on my knee there is a star
brown from twenty years ago and it shows

no signs of leaving. Is it funny
that I saw nothing of the city
except the heart hospital? It’s blinking red

opposite my hotel window.
That they assigned me twin beds
each with its own duvet.

That I’ll never again say
my boyfriend is Bihari. That a few steps
from here, is your grandfather’s library

where I thought you will take me some day.
Yes, I imagined it. Floor to ceiling
black wood shelves, lined with red spines,

dust under our feet, your fingers finding
book after book after book. Because I asked you
to stop hurting me when I didn’t know how

to stop hurting myself. Because I hated it
when anyone sat across from me at dinner
and said, he is not a good guy. I could not

agree. Not even when I punched your cheek.

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