First published in Fulcrum, Number 3
Dull green paint over wood
Obstinate — its use diminished —
Its writing faded even as it is driven on the page.
A broad pencil
Recycled from dead Bejanji Pappa’s
Stationary coffers, I hope,
And gnaw the bitter flaking end.
Some remnants of spit from him
Dance on my tongue
But he was very proper and wouldn’t chew like me — a
Monkey girl -
Perched on the refrigerator
So that thousands of miles away I can get an aerial view of Berlin as my
In black and white like his photographs:
By then economics had given back the colour to
Hitler’s youth. I count, on my abnormally long seven-year-old fingers,
How much my pink and white
Phantom candy cigarettes would cost in the Berlin of 1924. More than my Lego blocks.
My Great-grandfather was blind before he died
And I close my eyes and walk around the house barefoot
Imagining what it felt like to have blood
Circulating, throbbing in my eyes and not seeing, like I
Miss the dead I never met.
As if by holding pencils they once used I could touch them
But don’t I know the lead is stoic, like my Grandfather, and the ashes, my skeleton too.
A kucha black granite slab was polished to sit on Bejanji Pappa’s remains
And my Grandfather’s ribs are under my fingers constantly from the forty minutes I tried to push
My life force back into his warm, helpless body
But he was dead, too late for CPR. His Pappa and he, they left me.
And now I go about taking large gulps of air to remind me
They once lived and breathed this air I breathe in now -
Oxygen that traced their bronchi
Now fleets past mine.
Maybe my cells’ ancestral molecules are dusted onto an old suit worn on the ship, maybe
My children shall eat red desi carrots grown on the Belgaum soil —
Decomposed Great-grandfather, Bejanji Pappa.
First published in Fulcrum, Number 3, 2004