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Poems by Charu Suri

by Charu Suri


And so every morning, plucked jasmine, heavy incense

and the lighting of copper lamps whetted our appetite

for prayer. A sandalwood fragrance thickened.

Our father spooled muslin wicks that licked up pools of oil,

touched his palms and closed his eyes.

We were young, and could not understand

why we whirred slim incense rods round

the statue of Ganesha. "One must pray everyday,"

he said. Scorched by guilt, we nodded, pledged

our mornings to this act.

She watched us quietly, aloof and busy

with house chores. When the session ceased,

she’d pick her broom up, sweep away the ashes,

steal jasmine from the gods and empty oil from the lamps.

Her bracelets clinked, her broom strokes, brusque

with rhythm, became ritual themselves.

She'd give her final pocket penny to the pan-handlers

who’d come at seasonal intervals, without a fuss.

We often tried to coax her to join us,

but she insisted, "I pray differently."


Soon a ring of girls encircled me,

black eyes poised to question who I was,

which strange city could have fed a woman

with the English tongue. The whys and wheres

rolled from their throats: guttural sounds that flowed

from a lack of proper education.

What reply could I have offered them?

A blackboard with some chalk to show them joys

of stringing words from a’s and z’s? Their mothers

watched me carefully from under a neem’s thick roof.

Tensing silence broke quite suddenly

when from a straw-glazed hut a new parent

lightly stepped, a gurgling boy in her arms.