“Follow the Leader”, digital collage, 2017

Follow the Leader

My breathing comes infrequently and slowly,
lest the air swirling in my lungs 
carry out the secrets in my heart. 
The pale pink walls of my house are silent, 
they have nothing to say to their bright green neighbors. 
My pink listens to her green walls.
Being her neighbor is like
watching someone peel mango skin with their teeth.
Juice drips like sap where chin becomes neck,
wrist becomes forearm,
but there is no pool of juice deep enough to drown them,
no fruit skin tough enough to chip their tooth. 
I prefer to use a knife
but folks like Seema,
they don’t seem mind mango fibers swimming in their gums.
My gray eyes watch her every morning as she takes her cow for a walk.
As far as my grays know, she lives alone,
but my golden ears have heard she has two sons and one husband. 
My lips know to be still when hers move
lest they interrupt a story. 
“Last week”, she tells me, “the priest came by
and told my father he has only a few auspicious months left in his life.” 
“This week”, she tells me, “my father gave the temple 
money to build a silver mantap for its inner sanctum.” 
I lean against the chipped black railing of my porch. 
Strands of hair fall into my face, I leave them be, leaning in closer. 
“There is a river of color in Kashi,” she says.
“It has the look of the sky. Just imagine. The sky slithering on the ground. 
There are women you know, women who wade into this river in Kashi.
Never in my life. Stepping into this river is like stepping off a ledge you know?
But these women. They are flying. Hello, do you understand? 
When they swim, they fly.
What an idea really. To fly off one day. But can you blame them?
What else are we to do, no? They take away our sky while we are so young.
Flying is not an option. 
So Bharat Mata opened her mouth and asked us to swim.”