Learn From Me How to Make Pickles
And since he is a Bombay man with an avakkai heart,
mother-in-law stands on creaking knees and says,
the hope still alive in her eyes,
“Do you want me to teach you how to make them?
Mango pickles of various sorts: Avakkai, maagai …
Let me show you how to pluck the mangoes
before they fall in summer,
the shapes and sizes in which to slice them,
and just how to subdue them –
in what spicy, salty, oil-pools.
It isn’t hard.
Woman, you who sit at your desk all day long
and read and write. I have caught you often
staring out the window.
Learn from me how to make pickles,
and sashay, without a stumble, into my son’s heart.
Wrap your fingers around kitchen-knives, not pens.
Books aren’t bad, I know, and there’s nothing the matter with pretty views, but they are nowhere close to pickles when it comes to certain things. I should know.
I have lived on this earth longer than you
and have three grown children all raised on pickles.
But first things first: the chili should always be a bright Guntur red.”
Because I Never Learned the Names of Trees in Tamil
(After Rod Jellema’s “Because I never learned the names of flowers”)
You pour it into my ear,
the warm oil of tree names in Tamil,
and not one of them in soft, cool italics.
You are looking, I know, to oust that convent-English insect,
frantically alive, trapped there since grade one.
Manjanathi, you say, and murungai,
aalamaram, roots you can swing on, girl,
airy wings of thathapoochi
that will tangle
with your hair.
I cite, in my support, the carefree impunity
of lovers who carve their names
on trees they don’t know the names of.
Palaamaram, you say, not giving up.
Poovarasamaram, vepamaram, magizhamaram.
The insect stops beating its wings,
learns to luxuriate in this unfamiliar oil,
acquires a certain sparkle.
It is something else entirely
that flies out my ear.
What the Tamil Poet Says About Herself in Her Bio note
That her childhood was marked by her migration
from kurinji to marudham,
that, as a young woman,
a strange and sudden sorrow
clouded her mind,
that she keeps a parrot for a pet,
that poem-birds sleepfly
into her room
in the dead of night,
holding lines in their beaks,
that some of them find their way
into the notebook under her pillow.