Poems by Rajiv Mohabir

• February 2014

Offering

jab mathiya hamar ban jai, ta ham chalab
ham na aib, but ham na jani ki u mar jai”*

The pandit flutters wildness in Sanskrit
and deep Hindi, chirped only by the people who

stretch asanas in midtown on white bread lunch
breaks. In the land of erasure I rum myself clean,

touch my lips to the bottle as I drink; think
Pitripaksh means the wings of the ancestors. But

it’s the fortnight to offer kush grass for forefathers
and I pull a bird’s entrails from its torso, damning

myself twice in English, a dwijah, a vireo’s
blood in my nail beds. Hear Aji, “None na de

fe charawe kush fe abi.” There is no kush
in this country where I eat a bird’s wild heart.

*“When my temple is built, then I will come.
If I will not come, I will not know if he is dead.”
—Surrendra Gambhir, Guyanese Bhojpuri: East Indian Speech Community in South America

 

Canis latrans

“The colonized then tend to break into song.”
—Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Do not mistake yourself
               for a wolf, your plantation days
of illiterate indenture still

               dusk the horizon. Crouch in the field
of yellowing cane, your ears
               and snout obscure your form, your skin
sings one song while people hear
               another. Your grandmother picks
a book from the shelf and folds

               it into her bag. She takes it to market
to wrap the fish she buys. You descend
               from a misread line of poetry
that grasped a cutlass.
               You cannot change your hide—
your parents are not from India

               and only curse in Bhojpuri.
Other Indians don’t know
               your drawl, and laugh
at your rustic coat. You split from them
               years ago for Skeldon and Lusignan.
Everyone calls your camouflage a different name—

               some jackal, brush wolf, some shudra, or sand
nigger. Americans fear you
               will kidnap their litter, drag them
from jump ropes, jaws locked around
               blonde heads. They misread poverty
for poetry. At dusk cry these spirits

               into old Hindi film songs.
They will clink as ice
               in your glass of rum.

 

Ramayan
(for Etwariya)

lanka se kahe siya, bachao hamke parbhu.
onke ghare layeke ban mein chord diyal raghu.*

They took your channe ke, urad, mung, kali,
masoor, toor, and gave you dull Goya, grey split peas.

They broke your jata; the chakki’s wood axle,
the singing grinding stone gone to refined white flour.

In your hands they placed a cutlass; in the fields
they blinded you with rum from the rot of their cane.

They squeezed you dry, salt so sweet, and with your pulp
poisoned your veins in disease, in diabetes.

In the fields singing mantras for Dushera
you light the ten-headed effigy of Rawan.

You look to the sky as they bury you in Psalms
scouring the blue for the one who comes in Ram’s name.

*Sita says from Lanka, Save me Lord.
Taking her home, he abandons her in the forest.

 

Snowfall in the Tropics

koi nahi je aapan aapan aavaaj mein gawela
koi aur ke chehrwa phenke chale lagela*

On every corner a festival of white dis side.
Outside the rain of jasmine or ash—

snow drifts. Snow swallows the earth whole.
Snow first, then the namaste of daffodil heads

breach the ice mirror. Their buried bones
gleam white, deep within earth skins, 19th-century verse

figure-skates their palates, carving X-marks into thumbs.
They’re glad for the frost, turmeric lips bow to the ground.

They spell their names in an ever-white garland of Xs,
outside their homes the rain of jasmine or ash—

It’s Christmas and I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.
It’s Christmas and they call small bananas figs.

*No one sings in their own voice;
wearing someone else’s face they roam.

 

Rajiv Mohabir, a VONA and Kundiman fellow, is the author of the chapbooks na bad-eye me (Pudding House Press, 2010) and na mash me bone (Finishing Line Press, 2011). His poetry is published or forthcoming from journals such as the Prairie Schooner, Drunken Boat, Great River Review, Crab Orchard Review, PANK, Storyscape, Assacarus, and Lantern Review. Nominated for a Pushcart in 2010, he received his MFA in poetry and translation from Queens College, CUNY, where he was editor in chief of Ozone Park Journal (2012–13). He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa.