Arsenic Lobster poetry journal Issue Thirty-two
Summer 2013
Graining Holes In Pages
Nandini Dhar

The old trunk in the attic was big enough
for Saraswati to crouch, and I closed her in.
Not wide or deep enough to lie down,
she ran her fingers along the edges of
the old books. Served her right
for asking too many questions: cutting
through the calmness of the fifth grade
Bengali textbook. My sister laughed. We had
taught dolls before, making them sit in a row.
Had spanked them with the wooden ruler when
they failed to deliver. Here, we molded another girl –
our servant’s daughter into a doll.

My sister and I, head full of borrowed stories,
eager to chew up the world in broken tongues. This girl,
so bereft of stories, waited to be sculpted
in our flawless literacies.

Saraswati offered us with her patient tongue, hollow ribcage.
Her shoulder blades sharp— cartilage-like. Eyes
without eyelashes— unblinking, spotted like a parrot’s.

We ripped apart the plotlines – an imitation of what our teachers do for us:

Once there was a king— not so good.

Because he wasn’t that good, the huts were
to be burned. All of them. That was the order.

Those that belonged to – the farmers, the craftsmen, the masses, the crowd.

Saraswati should have continued to memorize;
until the poem became words inside an old
government file, yellowing overhead.
But she had moved her books away, cleaning
her fingers of the book dust:

Did the king ever rebuild the huts?

Where did those folks live meanwhile?

That was also the time when Saraswati had tried to draw lines on our bodies.

Her servant-daughter’s fingers, thin like bristles
mutating into claws, gashing into the story.

That was what it was like to try to become a bear.

But we who owned teddy bears
in multicolored multitudes,
were not to be scared off.

Besides, we of the flawless literacies, knew:
how to cup our lips around words

How are we supposed to know?

Did we write the poem?

What you’re asking won’t be there in the test. Stupid girl!

Our hands: tentacles, shucking off innocence, squeezing
her into a blanket. Foldable. Shoved her into the old trunk in the attic:
dust, our father’s old college textbooks,
myths, legends, histories.

Her skin on our palms: scaly
like braided coconut fibre. Her elbows:
pin-sharp, the sound of her bones snapping, impelled
in the holes of our pierced earlobes
long after we shut her in.

And we forgot. It was nothing but an error:
like words in English, spelt perfectly, but misspoken often.

We remembered: an hour later. Lifted open the lid.
No Saraswati inside. But a sparrow. Hungry for grains.
Poking holes inside the pages of the books.

My sister whispers: daughters of servants become birds
in the summer—
this passing was a simple change of feathers,
an addition of adornment.

We watched: assured. Took the sparrow on our palms.
How small. How soft. We stoked its feathers: it shat
right on our fingertips. That too, soft and warm. We let it go: flutter,
little sparrow. Began to plan on a method. How to steal
this thing that she had but we didn’t. Sharpen it into
a weapon. Use it for ourselves.

About Nandini Dhar

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