Sweetened palm juice in your hands frying taaler bora
You cared too much spoke so little
Except with mother two sisters making each other up to survive marriage
My stomach tore in an umbilical pull
At “khala is gone, bhaiya”
As if you would always be there
keeping stoves burning, wetting hands with palm
in that subleased two room apartment at the end of the street
Remember the time you cried
when I cried after mother’s beating?
Now I am silenced at your silence.
The little child you bathed, fed, and loved dreamed
one day they would buy you, mother, and grandmother a house with big rooms where you could unchain
the obligations around your waist
laugh and love each other
Friday afternoons your hair hanging like loose curtains
We sat around watching Shabana and Alomgir on TV
The mustard of muri fusing with cigarette fumes
A piercing scream
“There he goes again!”
Khalu hiding and smoking in the bathroom
So many things he hid from you –
the igloo ice cream cups he bought us children at eid fair,
the wife he married by the tea stall
So many things you hid for him –
his addictions, his infertility
Your back carried his faults without bending
“If you need to know any family history,” ammu would say,
“ask your khala. She has the memory of an elephant.
She knows your own memories better than you.”
The last time I saw you,
recorder in my bag
holding memories of this city
I hesitated to ask
Could I record you?
Because there you were
With mother, having such a good time laughing
My head resting on your lap
fingers playing, twirling my hair
I didn’t want to interrupt the paradise you manifested
in a wounded city where you would fight
become the site of institutionalized neglect
of unnameable planetary pains
be fed biscuit softened with water
trapped in an ICU with a leaking oxygen mask
Be buried in its public graveyard
dissolve your brown skin in the soil that birthed me.
When they ask me about you, I can’t speak
What you wore that night or said hours before –
The details drowned in contended worries
about what it would cost
to keep you alive.
wrapped in white
Khalu called upon to see you for the last glimpse
Turns away sends your brother into the room instead
I can’t turn away from him turning away.
You left us just the way you lived with us
A woman not seen A woman not seen A woman not seen
the style of your strength?
An old memory A blur of pink and white
the feel of wind
in my ears
I cannot see me in it
I only feel me in this memory
You know this memory, khalamuni
I offer this memory to be named the earth
that is you.