Torn Grass

Meena Alexander

Childhood is a hot country, Amma lives there.
The sky has turned the color of torn grass.

Remember the calf dragged away to Chenganacheri Fair?
Tiny tottering thing, snout wet with gooseberry juice.

You crouched in the dirt, staring and staring ,
Refused to come back in.

We had spiced pomfret, mangoes so ripe their sweat
Stained the damask tablecloth my dying mother left me.

Your grandfather’s shadow hit the veranda.
He sat in his armchair, chewing on a cheroot.

Clouds swelled the mirror, broke its rosewood frame.
I saw my dead mother.

Look to your child!, she cried. Out of the window
I saw the cow, her eye black, borderless,

A lake you tried to drown in.
When ayah fished you out, your dress was soiled

With torn grass,
Your muslin petticoat so filthy, I could not bear to touch it!

Remember how we sat on the veranda,
You and I, under a tinderbox sky,

Sun poking holes in the palmyra leaves,
Just like the summer your grandfather died,

And girls with umbrellas whispering catechisms
Passed by on the street, their petticoats billowing mist.

You recited some lines—A child said what is grass?
What was the rest of it?

Perhaps it was a child tearing up grass
With both her hands, fetching it to her mother.

Work that appears on the KR web site is from The
Kenyon Review
and all applicable copyright restrictions apply.

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