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  • Pujita Verma

Antyesti

By Pujita Verma


I do not pretend to be housing pearls

under skin of dirt,

no seeds to meet water

under layers of farmland.

on this side of the Atlantic

protest is 7 o'clock news:

white noise to douse

conversation.


Nani’s English takes flight

before two hands press together.

hello is traded for goodbye

as if a wifi’s hesitation


could hang. as if she is a match

that will light her daughter’s

passage back,

ghar aa jao (come home).


all the women put themselves on mute

to hear my poems. See

eyes fill Ganga

like ash in macrocosm.


even if they cannot disperse

a word

or my mother tongue

stifles on their sacrifice.


this elegance is tribute. my lineage

is burdened with drowning

women. from the 1,500-mile stretch

between Northern India


and the Bay of Bengal. our holiest river

is swollen with bodies.

girls they could not marry,

could not carry their elements


to origin. I will tell you a story

in which they are at rest,

now carried by remnants

and rocked to sleep.


I have tasted their soot

and struggle. we were birthed

from universal womb,

have bathed together


from each samskara,

(my mother once brought

me to the riverbeds, long before

I could walk)


to the collective, unbecoming act

of cleansing from his fingerprints,

how pure we are,

and no one is looking.


believe me. there is nothing beautiful to make of

the burning,

of wearing white

to the pyre


of an aisle unrolled by flame, of a vow

afloat a bitten tongue, of a body

reclaimed entirely in backstroke.

I will swim home


in any language I can cauterize

aapki kahaani / kaee kaanon tak/ jayegi

(your story will reach many ears)

until we meet again.


“Antyesti” refers to the Hindu funeral rites for the dead, when a body is cremated and the ashes are dispersed in the Ganges river—where it is also often customary to bathe an infant as a rite of passage.


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