Portions of a mango tree the storm cut down,
a green blaze bent into mud
and they come to me, at dawn
three girls from Kanpur, far to the north admittedly
(we know this from national geography class,
the borders of states, the major cities).
They hung themselves from fans.
In the hot air they hung themselves
so that their father would not be forced to tender gold
he did not have, would not be forced
to work his fists to bone.
So that is how a portion of the story goes.
Slowly in the hot air they swung, three girls.
How old were they?
Of marriageable age certainly.
Sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, something of that sort.
How do I feel about it?
What a question! I am one of three sisters,
most certainly I do not want father to proffer money
he does not have for my marriage.
Get a scooter, a refrigerator, a horde of utensils,
silks, and tiny glittering bits of gold
to hang about my ears and throat.
Gold is labor time accumulated . . . labor time defined.
Who said that? Yes, I am a schoolteacher, fifth standard
trained in Indian history and geography,
Kerala University, first class first.
The storm tree puts out its limbs and
I see three girls swinging. One of them is me.
Step back I tell myself.
Saumiya, step back. The whole history
of womankind is compacted here.
Open your umbrella, tuck your sari tight,
breathe into the strokes of catastrophe,
and let the school bus wait.
You will get to it soon enough and the small, hot faces.
See how the monsoon winds soar and shunt
tropic air into a house of souls,
a doorway stopped by clouds.
Set your feet into broken stones
and this red earth and pouring rain.
For us there is no exile.