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.