let's go out
&
play

ganavya . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  ether

immanuel wilkins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   wind

ria modak . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  fire

utsav lal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  water

sunny jain. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  thunder

devon gates. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   earth

rajna swaminathan. . . . . . . . . . . . . .  heart

viktor givens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  vision

sagarika sundaram . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  ancestors

additional prayers by: 

anya yermakova  . . . . . . . . . . . . (embodiment of knowledge)

jahnavi harrison  . . . . . . . . . . .  (spirit and nature dancing together)

brinda guha  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  (spirit-mirror)

barkha patel  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (dance as prayer)

eden girma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (electricity) 

vidya & ganesan doraiswamy . . . (beloved elders) 

ashni davé (basket weaver; creative producer)

teju cole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . voice heard during free therapy

 

collage of our ancestors was made by gaya feldheim schorr.

shireen hamza . . . . . . . . . . . . . . additional text (forthcoming) 

georgia bowder-newton . . . . . . . . illustrations 

i sit at the feet of you all. 

words to keep you company, pre-show. you can skip it and go to program notes here. 

if you have arrived early, here is something you could read to pass time. some of you have a paper with an excerpt of this. it is from an essay for the upcoming essay for the second edition of mutual mentorship for musicians, where i recall what i call the wisdom of the kitchen, and how my mother, grandmothers, and aunts have managed the world with indescribable grace. i write to you the day after my mother cooked for about 20 of us, on the table we all ate together. peter spoke once about the work he did with elder toni morrison, a different version of othello they called desdemona where all the unnamed women in shakespeare's othello gather in the afterlife and look to this world, shake their heads and wonder: if only you had considered listening to us. how much pain we could have saved you all. in the longer essay, i pray that for the wisdom of the kitchen to be brought out to the world. a strong, quiet wisdom that lives in us all.

if you'd like to make a paperboat from the paper you may have in your hand, please find me after the show, or use these links. here is one for the kathikappal. and here is the hatboat.

I. QUIESCENCE

 

Once upon a time, there was a giant sea mammal, who weighed up to twenty-three tons, swimming in the Bering Sea. In 1741, a German naturalist “discovered” Hydrodamalis gigas swimming large and luxe, at least three times bigger than the contemporary manatee. Within twenty-seven years, the entire species was extinct, killed on thousands of European voyages for fur and sealskin. 

 

So she knows what we know. It is dangerous to be discovered. 

 

— Beloved Alchemist of Realms Innumerable: Alexis Pauline Gumbs, 

Chapter 1: “listen” from Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals

Right before turning this in, I suddenly add these first paragraphs, a life before high school, before weltschmerz. It would seem, I desperately want you to be my kin. Gossip is an intoxicating surrogate for intimacy, but it leaves a spiritual hangover in the heart the next morning. There has to be something else. I could write to you in my mother tongue, and if you were to understand, you could be my mother’s kin. I must write to you of the language that keeps me safely shrouded, in appropriate distance, from those who are not as immediately safe as the familiar. I offer this bond, a token made of one gesture of demystification. It is a small, but deeply intimate thing for me. A spiritual blood oath, the intentional slicing open of self to reveal the essence that lives behind the surface. Let us share just one letter together, in Tamil. 

 

What is the sound of silence to you? 

 

As I quietly reflect on the past few years, I realize how much I have been tracing the remnants of love— voices— in places I have visited. “_______: Let Our Silences Speak,” I pleaded in one title. Resigned and unable to describe the presence of my most familiar and most beloved divine, I wrote in another paper: “For now, I leave all else here: [            ].” 

 

Voice is how I first understood love. The absence of a voice is how I first understood oppression. The presence of voices in spaces that are hostile to them: this is how I first understood resistance. The shaping of your voice so that it can pierce through a wall of potential violence by changing just the outer layer of it, while retaining its core: this is how I first met the kind of intelligence many call subversion. Those who knew how to hear and respect voices, particularly that of the vulnerable: this is how I first understood kindness. Those who kept asking themselves if they were being oppressive, despite the ever-evolving nature of one’s station: this is how I understood wisdom. Those who could hear both what was being said, and what wasn’t being said: this is where I found trust. We Have Voice, the organization names itself, at once both an insistence and an aspiration. A war cry and a sigh. 

 

What is the sound of silencing to you?

 

Ssssh. “Hush little baby, don’t you cry.” Is it the promise of tomorrow, however untrue, that keeps us going? How do we train ourselves to swallow a cry even before we know how to speak? 

 

Ssssh. Appropriately named a voiceless retroflex fricative, this sound is not native to Tamil. It migrated from the north. We have no sha, something about the nature of our southern land, instead birthing a different set of sounds to mediate the inner and outer climates of a being through breath. Agastyar, the first Tamil speaker, is said to have believed that sha was not beneficial in our lands, for our bodies. Instead, Agastyar found cha. I look at a phonetic symbol someone once taught me to translate this sound to Latin-adjacent scholars. Most of it is a familiar form, recognized and found often in the mundane. But there it is: a curious underneath. The unsayable nuance, living under and alongside the recognizable. Ssh. 

Screen Shot 2021-07-22 at 10.42.45 AM.png

*                     *                      * 

Did you ever make a paper boat as a child? We made them in Shengotta (well, now that you know the history certain sounds in Tamil, Chenkottai,— Tamil for ‘red fort,’) a village known for its rains and waterfalls. There were two kinds of boats we knew how to make from a quarter piece of newspaper. One boat, the standard, could also be worn like a cap— a thoppi. It could be made in about 10 folds. The older children in the village knew a more advanced technique: one where the boat had what they called the shark’s fin underneath, an anchor of sorts. Some called this the kathi kappal, or the knife-boat. For many months, I didn’t know about the kathi kappal, because when they are set to float on the temporary water-paths the rain makes in front of your home, you cannot tell the difference between the thoppi and the kathi. Both the hatboat and the knifeboat look the same on the surface, when floating. 

 

But the boats that had the hidden underneath survived the current of water much longer, they had a gift of balance that the other kind did not. When the skies are falling on you and your fragile paper boats with the the vengeance of a hundred thousand tears, it is hard to know which of the boats have that hidden anchor— but the child in me found a way. It was simple. The boats with the hidden anchors could not be worn as caps. It paid well to predict.

 

My bets became more and more accurate. Look for the kids who had the hidden balance-maker underneath. They were the ones who weren’t— who couldn’t, really— advertise their boats by wearing them as caps. It got so bad that my mother started wondering if I was pestering the the pettikada corner store owner for free Tiger biscuits— how else could a child have amassed so many packets? If you had enough Tiger biscuits, you could trade them in for a packet of Parle G. If you had enough Parle G biscuit packets, you could trade them in for a packet of Milk Bikis. I can’t remember the ratio, but my older brother could tell you. Probably because he made them up— was it three to two to one? I made enough Tiger biscuits to get Milk Bikis. It didn’t really matter, we ended up sharing them all between us anyway. But, I learnt to keep them from my concerned mother. How a hidden shark’s fin prevented a cap from being worn and how this turned into packets and packets of biscuits… this was not something a girl of three plus three years knew how to explain to a mother. 

 

But as I aged into the body of a woman, I realized— not without tragedy— that my mother had a knifeboat all along. The thing behind the thing. The hidden underneath is sacred, and by nature of its making, it cannot be worn proudly. And conversely, those who wore the crown revealed themselves to not posses the hidden underneath, either by choice or ignorance. The price paid for balance in a force-filled world. It is dangerous to be discovered.

 

Take your pick. Crown, or balance? Sssh

Screen Shot 2021-07-22 at 10.42.48 AM.png

 

Sssh. We— and by this I mean someone, a while back— made a set of new letters in Tamil for these sounds that were not part of the original Tamil set. The adopted cousins from the north. When written by hand, like its Latin phonetic counterpart, the letter sha in Tamil has a curious underneath. Hm. How might I begin to describe it? It looks eerily familiar. Like what children in a village I once lived in called the hidden shark’s fin, underneath a paper boat.  

*                     *                      * 

Screen Shot 2021-07-22 at 10.42.52 AM.png

*                     *                      * 

This letter, the sound of sh, loses a fair amount of its flourish when typed. But still, to type this categorically voiceless sound— half serpent’s hiss, half breath— it is difficult. Yet still, it appears to be two wells, one discovered, one covered. One open, one still protected. But they are both always there. Hold on to this image, the simultaneous openness/closeness of  reality. Keep it in your pocket for me, as you read the rest of this essay.  

*                     *                      * 

So there. Now we both know a letter in Tamil. A few days ago, in Umbertide where I write to you from, I found myself in a beautiful field. It was nighttime, the field alight with fireflies. “We call them lightening bugs,” one said to another. “What do you call them?” nudged Lauren [Groff]. “Mmm… minmini-poochi,” I said. “Onomatopoeic. Poochi is bug. Minu-minu is…” but I didn’t have to finish the sentence, the field was explaining the sound back to us in lights. 

 

“Minmini-poochi,” says Lauren softly, tracing it again and again. A strange feeling in my stomach, a warm feeling. Quietly, I said to her then in my heart, what I say to you now in writing, bonded by a drop of Tamil: You are my kin. 

poetry from show:

 

Y llegó el Oxlajuj Baqtun

Poema de Humberto Ak’abal

 

Maya K'iche'

 

 

Qué nos pasó, abuelo;

por qué de repente sentimos escalofrío.

¿Por qué en la cocina de la abuela

cuesta que encienda el fuego?

 

La luna parece que también

no quiere alumbrar esta noche,

el aire tiene un olor que hiede,

el sol también se está enloqueciendo

a ratos calienta, a ratos quema…

 

¿Qué se hicieron los viejos sabios, abuelo?

En el pueblo ya no se ven.

 

Ay, a dónde se fueron aquellos viejos

que podían leer las estrellas,

que podían leer los relámpagos,

que podían leer en el agua el día de mañana,

que podían leer en los árboles los días de ayer.

¿Qué se hicieron esos viejos?

¿Quién los vino a traer,

a dónde se los llevaron?

 

Aquellos Guardianes del Culto al Sol,

aquellos Guardianes del Culto al Tiempo,

aquellas mujeres remedio,

aquellos hombres relámpago;

aquellos que leían los sueños:

¿por qué nos abandonaron?

 

Recuerdo al Tata León,

cuya mirada penetraba las paredes de adobes,

y lo traigo a mi recuerdo

cuando mirando fijamente a una pared,

con la seguridad del vidente dijo:

Ahí está, ahí está;

lo oigo llamar, lo oigo llorar…

 

Y el abuelo

comenzó a escarbar en aquella esquina

y encontró una sonrisa

esculpida en una piedrecita,

y danzaron, y cantaron, y lloraron

y quemaron pom, incienso y miel…

 

¿Por qué se murió el abuelo León,

por qué se llevó lo que sabía,

por qué nos dejó solos…?

 

Y el abuelo Xuwan,

aquella noche vino a casa bajo la lluvia:

no te vayás de viaje mañana temprano,

porque va a haber un percance en el camino.

 

Y no dormí esa noche,

al amanecer llegó la noticia,

la camioneta se había accidentado

y murieron cincuenta personas

allá por el puente viejo de Nawal Ja’.

 

¿Cómo supo el abuelo Xuwan

que sucedería ese desgraciado accidente?

Y él ya se fue,

ahora no sabemos leer el futuro…

 

Qué se hicieron las curanderas;

una hojita de esto, una raíz de lo otro,

la semilla de aquello,

y nos curábamos,

y de repente vinieron las enfermedades,

las plantas desaparecieron;

ahora hay un montón de remedios caros

para curar a los adinerados,

pero, para los pobres

ya no hay remedio…

 

¿Qué se hicieron los tajineles,

los que trabajaban la tierra?

Cada pedacito producía maíz,

piloyes, huicoyes, habas

y ahora la tierra se está muriendo,

ya no produce nada…

 

Antes las tortillas doradas en el brasero,

resquebrajadas y

guardadas en costales de algodón

eran el totoposte de los viajeros;

en cada descanso de los caminos,

se dejaban caer puños en los caldos

de hierbas con chile machacado en piedra…

¡Había qué probar aquella comida

bajo la sombra de un taxcal!

Se silbaba sobre la escudilla

por lo picante de cada bocado…

 

Ahora ya nadie las recuerda;

hoy solo se comen esas tostadas resecas,

saladas y edulcoradas con sintéticos

empaquetadas en bolsitas de papel aluminio.

¡Ay, hasta dónde hemos caído, abuelo!

 

Y la otra abuela,

aquella que preparaba tortillas

embarradas con frijoles negros

revolcados en recadito espeso de masa,

y el pollo asado y ahumado,

crujiente, limpio, oloroso,

uuummmm qué sano se comía, entonces.

 

Hoy se come pollo,

pero ese pollo cebudo

frito en aceite viejo, hediondo…

 

¿Adónde se fue el sentido del gusto,

a dónde se fue el olfato?

Parece que nuestra lengua estuviera muerta

y que la nariz ya solo sirviera de adorno.

 

Antes, en aquellos entonces;

cuando moría una gallina

llorábamos todos,

cuando moría un pájaro

todos nos poníamos tristes

y si moría un hermano

el pueblo se vestía de duelo…

 

Ahora hay muertos a cada rato,

ya nadie llora, nadie lo siente,

a nadie le importa.

¿Qué nos pasó, abuelo;

cuándo perdimos el corazón,

por qué ya no sentimos nada;

se nos olvidó llorar

o ya se acabaron las lágrimas?

 

Cuando se derribaba un árbol

de rodillas pedíamos perdón al bosque,

cuando se abría un pozo

se ponía sal en el corazón del agua,

cuando se abría un camino

se pedía permiso a la tierra

y no se metían las manos

en el vientre de la tierra…

 

Ay, abuelo;

ahora se burlan de esas costumbres,

por eso la tierra está enferma.

 

¿Es que no ven cómo se ven tristes

esas lomas peladas que antes eran bosques,

es que no les quema el alma

ver cómo se secan los pozos,

es que no sufren cuando ven ese río,

que antes llevaba agua limpia,

y que ahora arrastra basura y hediondez…?

 

Mire el pueblo, abuelo;

cómo hiede,

hoy cualquiera se caga

y se orina en las calles,

parecen chuchos.

 

Y los alcaldes pasan en carros

con anteojos oscuros

y bien vestidos…

¿Qué se hicieron, abuelo;

aquellas autoridades,

aquellos que eran celosos

con el orden y la limpieza?

Y la espiritualidad era una,

la reverencia era una,

las creencias eran una,

la educación era una,

el respeto era uno…

 

Y las ceremonias, abuelo;

las ceremonias de aquellos tiempos

se hacían con decoro,

cuánta espiritualidad

se respiraba en los altares

de los solitarios montes…

 

Ya no está el abuelo Xapuxtian,

aquel anciano que regañaba,

el viejo que sacudía con su lengua:

ser poronel es tener vergüenza,

porque un quemador de pom

no debe desnudar su cara.

 

Desde chiquitos eran escogidos

los futuros Ajq’ij,

día a día acompañaban al Anciano Enseñante,

para que aprendieran a comunicarse

para que aprendieran a hablar

con el viento,

con el agua,

con el fuego,

para escuchar la voz de la tierra;

y una palabra de ellos

era una palabra de trueno.

 

Hoy se hacen Ajq’ijes a cada rato,

cualquiera puede serlo (si paga),

Hoy se venden ceremonias mayas

y se hacen a domicilio.

 

Ay, abuelo; qué triste está el B'aqtun,

cuánta basura quedará después de la fiesta.

 

Seguramente será una Era de cambio,

pero tengo temor,

que el cambio sea al revés.

 

Abuelo, abuelo, abuelo:

usted ya no está conmigo…

¿Por qué lo vi sentado allí

del otro lado de los tenamastes?

 

El fuego se apagó,

el último tizón se hizo ceniza,

solo hay oscuridad.

¡Ay!, abuelo, tengo miedo,

estoy hablando solo…

 

And the Oxlajuj Baqtun arrived

Poem by Humberto Ak’abal

 

Maya K'iche'

 

What happened to us, grandfather;

why suddenly we feel chills.

Why in grandma's kitchen

Does it cost me to light the fire?

 

The moon seems that too

does not want to light tonight,

the air has a stinky smell,

the sun is also going crazy

at times it heats up, at times it burns ...

 

What did the old wise men do to each other, grandfather?

They no longer see each other in town.

 

Oh, where did those old men go

that they could read the stars,

that they could read the lightning,

that they could read in the water tomorrow,

that they could read in the trees yesterday.

What did those old men do?

Who came to bring them,

where did they take them?

 

Those Guardians of the Sun Cult,

those Guardians of the Cult of Time,

those women remedy,

those lightning men;

those who read dreams:

Why did they abandon us?

 

I remember Tata León,

whose gaze penetrated the adobe walls,

and I bring it to my memory

when staring at a wall,

with the security of the seer he said:

There it is, there it is;

I hear him call, I hear him cry ...

 

And grandpa

he started digging in that corner

and found a smile

sculpted in a pebble,

and they danced, and they sang, and they cried

and burned pom, incense and honey ...

 

Why did grandfather Leon die,

why did he take what he knew,

why did he leave us alone ...?

 

And Grandpa Xuwan,

that night he came home in the rain:

don't go on a trip early tomorrow,

because there is going to be a mishap on the way.

 

And I didn't sleep that night

at dawn the news came,

the truck had crashed

and fifty people died

over there by the old bridge of Nawal Ja '.

 

How did Grandpa Xuwan know

What would happen that unfortunate accident?

And he already left

now we don't know how to read the future ...

 

What the healers did to themselves;

a little leaf of this, a root of the other,

the seed of that,

and we were cured,

and suddenly the diseases came,

the plants disappeared;

now there are a lot of expensive remedies

to heal the wealthy,

but, for the poor

there is no remedy ...

 

What did the tajineles do,

those who worked the land?

Every bit produced corn,

piloyes, huicoyes, beans

And now the earth is dying

it no longer produces anything ...

 

Before the golden tortillas in the brazier,

cracked and

kept in cotton sacks

They were the totoposte of the travelers;

in every rest of the roads,

fists were dropped into the broths

of herbs with chili pepper crushed in stone ...

You had to try that food

under the shadow of a taxcal!

It was whistled over the bowl

for the spiciness of each bite ...

 

Now nobody remembers them;

today they only eat those dry toast,

salty and sweetened with synthetics

packed in aluminum foil pouches.

Oh, how far have we fallen, grandfather!

 

And the other grandmother,

the one who prepared tortillas

smeared with black beans

rolled in a thick layer of dough,

and the roasted and smoked chicken,

crisp, clean, odorous,

uuummmm how healthy you ate, then.

 

Today you eat chicken,

but that fat chicken

fried in old, smelly oil ...

 

Where did the sense of taste go

where did the smell go?

It seems our tongue is dead

and that the nose was only serving as an ornament.

 

Before, back then;

when a hen died

we all cried,

when a bird died

we all got sad

and if a brother died

the people dressed in mourning ...

 

Now there are dead all the time,

nobody cries anymore, nobody feels it,

nobody cares.

What happened to us, grandfather;

when did we lose our hearts,

why we no longer feel anything;

we forgot to cry

or are the tears over?

 

When a tree fell

on our knees we asked the forest for forgiveness,

when a well was opened

salt was put into the heart of the water,

when a path was opened

permission was requested from the land

and they did not put their hands

in the belly of the earth ...

 

Ay, grandfather;

now they make fun of those customs,

that's why the earth is sick.

 

Don't you see how sad they look

those bare hills that used to be forests,

is that it does not burn their soul

see the wells run dry,

is that they do not suffer when they see that river,

that used to carry clean water,

and that now drags garbage and stench ...?

 

Look at the town, grandfather;

how it stinks,

today anyone shits

and urinates in the streets,

they look like mutts.

 

And the mayors pass in cars

with dark glasses

and well dressed ...

What were they done, grandfather;

those authorities,

those who were jealous

with order and cleanliness?

And spirituality was one,

the bow was one,

the beliefs were one,

education was one,

respect was one ...

 

And the ceremonies, grandfather;

the ceremonies of those times

they were done with decorum,

how much spirituality

you breathed in the altars

of the lonely mountains ...

 

Grandpa Xapuxtian is gone,

that old man who scolded,

the old man who shook with his tongue:

to be poronel is to be ashamed,

because a pom burner

you must not bare your face.

 

They were chosen since they were little

the future Ajq'ij,

day by day they accompanied the Teaching Elder,

so that they would learn to communicate

so that they would learn to speak

with the wind,

with the water,

with the fire,

to hear the voice of the earth;

and a word from them

it was a word of thunder.

 

Today Ajq'ijes are made every so often,

anyone can be (if you pay),

Mayan ceremonies are sold today

and they are done at home.

 

Ay, grandfather; how sad is the B'aqtun,

how much trash will be left after the party.

 

It will surely be an Age of change,

but I am afraid,

that the change is the other way around.

 

Grandfather, grandfather, grandfather:

you are no longer with me ...

Why did i see him sitting there

on the other side of the tenamastes?

 

The fire went out

the last brand turned to ash,

there is only darkness.

Oh, grandpa, I'm afraid

I'm talking to myself…

*                     *                      * 

by shilo shiv suleman: 

 

one day i’ll meet a prince disguised as a frog who will kiss me and never will i have to ask him to-
loveme loveme loveme loveme loveme
most days (these days) i am asking with every sighing breath of mine for you to
loveme loveme loveme (please) lovemelovemeloveme
maybe i am speaking to myself, maybe my father went missing, (maybe my longing is displaced, maybe i am longing for the garden, maybe i am waiting for death),
maybe my hands are too small, maybe my nose is too big,
maybe i never make myself tender, maybe you never even noticed how tender (i was)
maybe i swallow too many poems, maybe i eat too many stars,
maybe i was loved too much by my mother, maybe i give too much of my love.
maybe you just want me for my honey (and i will give you what you want)
maybe i needed your water, maybe there’s no end to thirst.
maybe
i
never
ever
have to ask for love.
maybe you never ever have to ask for love
may you never have to ask for love
may you never have to ask for love

http://shiloshivsuleman.in/poem/one-day/

*                     *                      * 

Door in the Mountain
by jean valentine, 
beloved mother of rebecca chace. 


Never ran this hard through the valley
never ate so many stars

I was carrying a dead deer
tied on to my neck and shoulders

deer legs hanging in front of me
heavy on my chest

People are not wanting
to let me in

Door in the mountain
let me in

*                     *                      * 

cosmic chants

by my father's teacher, guru paramahansa yogananda

door of my heart open wide I keep for thee 

will thou come, will thou come, just for once, come to me 

Will my days fly away without seeing thee my Lord 

Night and night, night and night, I look for thee, night and day 

 

Listen to my soul song, listen to my heart song 

In secret in my soul, I will gather blossoms for thee

dipping them in the ocean . . . 

 

(a mistake i would make a child, singing ocean instead of devotion; my parents started singing ocean as well)

 

-

chant my brother, alfredo rodrguez taught me:

yemaya asesu yemaya

 

-

what happens here is yours 

by sham e ali nayeem

Ocean fixes everything

 

-

cosmic chants continued

 

 . . . dipping them in devotion 

I will lay them at thy feet 

 

radhe radhe radhe govinda jai

 

spirit and nature dancing together 

victory to spirit and 

victory to nature 

*                     *                      * 

by 13th century sufi-shaivite mystic

lal ded, lalla, lalleshwari

 

āmi pa'na so'daras 

nāivi chas lamaan

kayti boizi dhayi miyon 

meyti diyi tar

Ameyn takeyn poin zan shemaan

zuv chum bramaan gara gatshaha

*                     *                      * 

text by

burniss travis

 

ginger my sins 

all the days of life I win 

Teach me my truth 

 

disipline my ways 

i’ll never sway 

Teach me my truth

 

Fear disappear 

My truth is blue 

She shines light through 

All to be true 

*                     *                      * 

found poem from rohith vemula's last letter to the world

in memoriam 

rohith vemula 

I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body 

The value of a man was reduced to his nearest possibility 

Never was a man treated as his mind a glorious thing made of stardust 

It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt 

Maybe I was wrong all the while in understanding 

There was no urgency but i was always rushing 

 

If there’s anything at all, I believe 

That i can travel to the stars and know about the other worlds

*                     *                      * 

 

Despite My Efforts Even My Prayers Have Turned into Threats

Kaveh Akbar

 

Holy father I can’t pretend

I’m not afraid to see you again

but I’ll say that when the time

comes I believe my courage

will expand like a sponge

cowboy in water. My earth-

father was far braver than me — 

coming to America he knew

no English save Rolling Stones

lyrics and how to say thanks

God. Will his goodness roll

over to my tab and if yes, how

soon? I’m sorry for neglecting

your myriad signs, which seem

obvious now as a hawk’s head

on an empty plate. I keep waking

up at the bottom of swimming

pools, the water reflecting

whatever I miss most: whiskey-

glass, pill bottles, my mother’s

oleander, which was sweet

and evergreen but toxic in all

its parts. I know it was silly

to keep what I kept from you;

you’ve always been so charmed

by my weaknesses. I just figured

you were becoming fed up with

all your making, like a virtuoso

trying not to smash apart her

flute onstage. Plus, my sins

were practically devotional:

two peaches stolen from

a bodega, which were so sweet

I savored even the bits I flossed

out my teeth. I know it’s

no excuse, but even thinking

about them now I’m drooling.

Consider the night I spent reading

another man’s lover the Dream

Songs in bed — we made it to

“a green living / drops

limply” before we were

tangled into each other, cat

still sleeping at our feet. Allow

me these treasures, Lord.

Time will break what doesn’t

bend — even time. Even you.

*                     *                      * 

forgive me my forgetfulness

teju cole 

We became friends during the time of your dying. We became friends because it was the time of your dying. I would visit once or twice a week. The weather seemed always to be gray and, very slowly, your lungs were failing. I forget most of what we talked about. This is how it is: we are always asking our dead to forgive us our forgetfulness. You taught English in Pune, decades ago. Then came those afternoons, in the apartment you shared with your late sister’s husband, a courtly gentleman (his eyes, I remember, hooded like a hawk’s). How could I have forgotten so much? Sometime before the very end, you gave me a stack of papers. Mostly handwritten recipes, they also included some printed clippings: the receipts of a lifetime of cooking. The handwritten recipes were in English and Marathi.

 

 

You had difficulty breathing. Remember when I brought you, in your wheelchair, to meet my family in the park? There was no sense of fading away, because your mental agility remained, because you expressed no fear of death. No one can forget gentleness. But, one day, your brother-in-law called me to tell me the sad news. Years passed. In late September 2020, when I thought of photographing my kitchen, I thought I would finally do something with your recipes. I had never summoned the courage to really look at them. But now I searched everywhere and I couldn’t find them. No doubt they’ll turn up. They are here, humming behind this other cookbook. Forgive me my forgetfulness.

*                     *                      *