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3 poems by Vandana Khanna - The Feminist Wire

3 poems by Vandana Khanna

The Blessed

 

 

Back when we belonged

only to ourselves

but didn’t know it,

 

when dust coiled

around our ankles

with every step

 

we took away from

the front door, when

our breath still smelled

 

of raw milk, our ears hurt

with stories slipped

through the thin seam

 

of our mothers’ mouths,

tales that could char

tongues to a black soot.

 

Our mothers who were

too scared to swim or curse

or drive, bent us with their worry:

 

half a world away, brides

were lit like torches,

thrown from kitchen

 

windows for their dowries—

kerosene-soaked saris

flared like a brilliant sore

 

in the bleached sky.

Their words bit away at us

with their tea-stained teeth.

 

Even in our innocent,

American kitchens

the steel-tipped stove

 

stood bright, ominous—

made us shudder

like a broken wing.

 

We were blessed—

our fate consecrated

by an unlit match,

 

our minds, a pot boiling over

with the salt and steam

of all we couldn’t imagine.

 

**

 

 

Mantra for a New Bride

 

 

Forget the painted flowers

rusting on your hands.

 

Forget you lined the part

in your hair red, the color

 

of brides. Forget your

mother-in-law wanted

 

someone fairer. Forget

you were never a goddess.

 

Forget they tried to light

you on fire. Forget

 

you never learned

how to drive. Forget

 

you had a baby

at fifteen. Forget

 

the supple want

of your skin. Forget

 

the rasp and resin

of your prayers rinsed

 

in the steam

of the garden. Forget

 

to cover your face

when you hear

 

the numb hymn

of your name rising

 

salted and sullen

from their lips.

 

**

 

Recipe for Discontent

 

 

The fall I was fourteen was all about flavor—

making the air thick enough to bite, rinsing

fingertips with color. Everything had a use:

leaf and root, hands and rolling pins. I learned

how to pickle and pluck, how to feed a family

that waited for me in some distant future

 

I couldn’t imagine. I trained myself to snap

and sing with coriander and clove, modeled

myself after women who clucked around

the kitchen like dissatisfied birds, whose arms

were thick with years of pushing dough

into place. As they orchestrated move after move—

 

smoothing down rough corners, making pans hiss

with spice, I thought of what lay ahead of me:

all the chili powder and mint, all the steaming

bowls of summer humming with honeysuckle,

calling me from stove and pot, from the persistent

pull of bread that never stopped rising.

 

**

 

Vandana_Khanna-7_2Vandana Khanna was born in New Delhi, India and attended the University of Virginia and Indiana University, where she earned her MFA. Her first collection, Train to Agra, won the Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize and her second collection, Afternoon Masala, was the co-winner of the 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize. Other awards include the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize from Passage North and the Diode Editions Chapbook Competition. Her work has appeared in The Missouri Review, the New England Review and Prairie Schooner as well as the anthologies Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation and Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry.

*”The Blessed” was previously published in Cave Wall and Afternoon Masala (University of Arkansas Press, 2014). “Mantra for a New Bride” was previously published in Conte and Afternoon Masala (University of Arkansas Press, 2014). “Recipe for Discontent” was previously published in Afternoon Masala (University of Arkansas Press, 2014)