issue 11: aug 2016, Poetry
Comments 2

Listening by Priya

You told me, you were turning into your mother
because when you touched the inside of my wrists
or just below my ankle
you said you could taste my skin on your tongue.
I must have tasted like bitter black coffee and dreamless sleep
that drove the color of guilt out of my throat
burned me empty, burned you out.
Your leg shook faster than a hummingbird’s wings
the rumble in your chest turning chaos into movement.
Anxiety is a full time preoccupation.

Buffy Summers told me, I’m cookie dough.
And I thought of when the neighbor put a knife on the wooden floor
and asked my mother to play spin the bottle
after her first day of first grade.
I am still trying to get free from her games.
Scraping at my raw red knuckles
to release the root                   only to rip it right out.
You both talk in stories.
And I know ours is still being written
but I wish you could tell me the end,
so I would know on which pain we will land.

You told me, sometimes you touch other people when you want to touch me
and I opened my eyes this morning
to sunlight baking my toes
reminding me of all the basement sundays        when I would lick you wet
with my slender, rough tongue
because you tasted like salt,       and you smelled like methi.
We brought rain with our laughter.
Now, I cry myself awake
hearing you moan, hungrily, whispering:
can we please change the subject baby?

Jewelle Gomez told me, finding those she loved within herself
eased the passage of time.
So I got down my lime green scrap box
to search for everything you’ve ever given me:
brown socks to cover the
heels of my feet rubbing holes in my soles,
a tear stained note gifting me the first book of poems I ever loved,
black dal cooked from sunrise to sunrise in smoke and clay
pushed into my mouth the way I taste you on my right fingers,
a sketch of you on your mother’s couch in your old-new home
where we shared a wall with your parents
and I kissed your swollen mouth on the carpet floor
looking for the wisdom in healing
to fill the gap of a tooth wrestled out.

You told me, only shop in your mother’s closet.
So I kept black leather boots, with a square strong heel
and said: I am a femme
as my mother is
a magic survivor brown baby femme
as my grandmother is
who knew you were family without any words,
showing off her rambutan and mango trees in her thirty year old garden
touching faded photo albums with faces she does not remember
holding her hand,             answering the same questions again, and again
how are you? do you want chai? what is your name?

Gabby Rivera told me, hold wisdom below your tongue until it enters your bloodstream.
So I drank potions, prayed for books, and chanted affirmations
every morning out the window      letting the blue-grey sky wash me
and the smells of flowers open me, I said:
I can calm myself
I am learning about myself
I am already whole
I will heal.

You told me, you are learning to love with more boundaries.
And my hands became slick with sweat
Flooded by memories of afternoons on the monkey bars
using the power of my body to swing from one to the next
so desperately afraid to fall.
Even when you say no five times, I will still ask you a sixth
because I thought we had dedicated our life to breaking down walls
to building a big open house with our mothers in the west
and our fathers in the east
and a terrace for every day of the week.

Jade Sharma told me, you will feel waves of sadness
And you will let them run through you because that is what they are:
Passing waves.
But I don’t want to forget where this pain lives
the way you’ve forgotten how to inhale my smell.
On the day you left me but did not leave,
we took sewing needles to our middle fingers
mixed India ink with our blood.
But there is no letting go,       of something
that is already gone.

You told me, loving people is having the same conversation over and over.
But I am tired of filling my memories with smoke
finding temporary peace in a fire escape.
The doctors say, it helps to disassociate
call her Malathy, not amma or amuma.
But they don’t tell you the numbness runs out
gets clogged in your throat
like words they didn’t want you to know.
And the only way to get them out
is to practice pushing them through your gut
until there is no where else for them to go.

Audre Lorde told me, we can learn to mother ourselves.
But I don’t think I know what that means,
because your head on my lap
gives me the strength to stay awake for the both of us.
Let us scoop the whitest malai out of our insides
with a broken shard from a young fruit
and learn to cook dahi puri and roti canai together.
Let me give your child their first journal
and sort our books in a shared library by the ways they make us dream.

I told you, I found a voice in your bed.
But really I found poetry in your love
and I’ve been writing to you ever since
this too long poem for too long
on subway cars, in iphone notes, across two different continents and three different journals.
But this is not a love letter
it’s a meditation
on learning how to love better.
With this threatening, abundant, because of, in spite of, love
but more: how to forgive myself.
Because the beauty of a poem,
is that after you read it
after you write it
you can breathe.


Priya is a queer, gender non-conforming writer living in New York City.

Illustration by Raz.


  1. Rumbidzai says

    This is such a beautiful and captivating poem. The kind of thing you wish you had in paper in front of you so you could underline, and re-read and re-read. Thank you for this.


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