The lost botanist
Silhouettes crowd my room. They have trained a telescope to the dark outside. I don’t know what aliens look like, but they are otherworldly for sure. I sense another Presence, but I can’t see them. The Whiff of Fate. God? The shadow figures beckon to me. They guide my head to the eyepiece of their Telescope of Possibilities. Upon close inspection a frisson of recognition. The telescope is fashioned out of my grandmother’s trousseau rug. Her name in the weft and warp. It was threadbare by the time we grew up and had to be replaced. It’s shiny and new again. They have rolled it up and pointed it to the Past that Could Have Bloomed. First darkness. Then I see her bent over a microscope, dissecting secrets in leaves—stomata, mesophyll, xylem, and phloem. A dark tendril of hair on her smooth cheek. A window bursting with mango blossoms. Behind her, doors with labels that I can’t read. Her beautiful children with their playthings. The same rug. A voice calls. She leaves her place at the microscope and walks without hesitation towards a door when a gust blows another open and she chooses that one instead. Then darkness again. I never knew she was a woman of science. The shadows whisper that to know more I must summon my dead often, and in that I had failed the test.
This house is us
I stand in front of the house and take it all in. I say house but it’s been razed save a wall or two. The barrenness an excavation site. Already a phoenix rises, all steel rods and concrete. Here, I dig up ghosts of the living. Cousins wintering in the cool of tropical Decembers. They come to stay until the breeze warms and stops cutting your lips. Only the elders remain. I’ve resurrected them too. Now mother’s drawing water from the well. The plunge of bucket against water as the first crows stir the dawn air. Father fiddles with the transistor radio, catching far flung stations. I never cried for them. Or for the ones who wintered and left. Like a strange engulfment the living crowd in. On a wall that remains, a single alcove. It holds a conch shell—exquisite striations, gold and cream, whorls and spires. Who knows who went out to sea from this inland country. I hold it to my ear and hear the roar of distant waves. Soon the cry of sparring boys drowns out the sea. They shimmy up the guava tree with its fat ants and peeling bark. Girls wring out water from their wet hair by the well. In the courtyard, women braid each other’s thick hair in the sweet winter sun. Men bring back fresh catch from the pond. Suddenly they open their mouths and howl in the voice of the house and call out to me. But the sea roars in my ear, and the ghosts slink back and fade way.
’s writing straddles both India and the U.S., and she calls both places home. Her writing appears in The Seattle Times
and on Pen to Print
. Her poems are forthcoming in Cold Lake Anthology
. She hopes to teach poetry to young children one day. Find her on Instagram @sayan_tani_r