The Mount Lavinia Hotel, Colombo
my history begins
with the echo of betel leaves
falling on teak floorboards
shadows of wedding guests
dissolve to smoke
with the push of the ballroom door
A Friendly Ghost
I find my costume at Tip-Top Stationers,
smiling mask gazing up at me
through the cellophane window. I hug the box
to my chest, carry it to the register.
On the car ride home, Casper rests
on the seat next to me,
promises the best candy haul ever.
The night of Halloween, I climb
into a new self. Nylon skin whispers
against my corduroy pants and turtleneck,
envelops me in phantasm. I fit his face
over mine, try on whiteness for the first time.
I feel the power of anonymity, blend
into the river of trick-or-treaters,
at last invisible.
This year, I don’t beg
for candy. I ring doorbells,
plant my sneakers on every porch,
demand the sweetness due me.
Flight Paths, or how tall is a bag of basmati rice
The door to the pantry is painted white,
brush marks mimicking woodgrain,
the occasional hair from the brush embedded
in the surface like a whisker or a bristle of foxtail
carried in from the schoolyard on the arm
of a coat. Along the door jamb are pencil marks,
temperatures etched on a thermometer.
Each mark bears a name and an age.
Manik, age three, Ashini, age four,
Aruni, age six. The marks start
near the lower shelves where rice
is stored in twenty-pound zippered sacks,
so many slouching pillow cases. Each year we inch
upwards, past the Froot Loops
and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, past
glass bottles of Taster’s Choice and Néscafe
now filled with roasted curry powder,
turmeric, and pale green cardamom pods.
Hash marks race to the top of the doorway,
charting our flights.
Aunty Rani is nurse at Bronx-Lebanon
with Ammi and Thaaththi, another foreigner
recruited by the hospital. When her marriage
to a physician in India is arranged, she hosts a party
to celebrate her engagement. She pins a snapshot
of the groom who becomes our Uncle Rana
to the shoulder of her sari
where the jeweled pallu falls away.
She leaves New York a bride and returns
a new wife. Her wedding bangles tinkle
with each gesture, the sindoor in her hair
vivid as blood.
The rhythm of their family pulses in the hallways,
perfume of cumin and corriander seeping
from under the door. Like Ammi and Thaaththi,
they add American children to the nation
and add South Asian values to the children
so that we all hold two countries.
Eventually they move to Abilene, Texas,
become Kodak snapshots
tucked into yearly holiday cards.
But on the night of the engagement party,
she is beautiful Aunty Rani, laughing, full of hope
for the future she will fly to India to meet.