Poetry / Vandana Khanna
:: Reconciliation ::
I. He doesn’t want her when she’s just a goddess practicing— all fake and pious and pink. Likes her better as a single girl swearing in the old language of dust and mud and stars. He wants to feel like a god again utter prayers that make his skin glow the cool blue of neon like the sagging sign proclaiming Karma above the sad-sap door of the bar—like all the doors slammed shut at the end of the world. He can feel the glare of the evil eye black on the back of his neck every time she speaks, forgets how to protect against it: was it salt or chilies or mustard seeds? But really, how to prevent that bitter bud of guilt from blooming? Another thing he lost in this incarnation. II. He didn’t believe her that nothing happened with that other guy, the one whose name means crying, the one with the ten heads and not a pretty one in the bunch. That monster who tried to touch the black gasp of her hair, sniffing the air behind her ear looking for that bit of her caught on the wind: saffron and cinnamon— her smell its own particular sin. III. He knows his doubt covers them like unforgiving ash, how awful the dirty itch of it between their fingers. Nothing sacred about a fire catching quick and ugly. All this because she thought him essential. Because she followed him into that jungle. Fourteen years: bored and bruised, how the animals loved her less and less. She’d tried— left clean sheets for him, someone who rubbed coconut oil into her scalp every morning. Did he love her then? He can’t recall. Only, when he pulled at the tight knots of her wrists, led them into an ancient meadow made wild with onion, all their sour history dulled. Their hands, plucked blooms, arms pricked by thorns. He felt the sharp ache of the cosmos expanding with its chant and pulse, its stagger and stagger.
From the writer
:: Account ::
This poem is part of a manuscript I’ve been working on in the voices of Hindu goddesses where they re-imagine the iconic myths in which they appear and revise the ways in which we view them as wives, mothers, and women. This particular poem is a departure, of sorts, as it’s in the voice of the god Ram. He reveals his motivations and thought processes (perhaps) for acting deplorably towards his wife, Sita, who has returned to him after being kidnapped. Ram has a hard time believing in Sita’s purity and thus makes her pass a “test” of walking through fire. Here, he reflects upon what brought them together and what, ultimately, pulls them apart.
Vandana Khanna was born in New Delhi, India, and is the author of two full-length collections: Train to Agra (Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, 2001) and Afternoon Masala (University of Arkansas Press, 2014), as well as the chapbook, The Goddess Monologues (Diode Editions, 2016). Her poems have won the Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize, The Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize, the Diode Editions Chapbook Competition, and the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize. Her work has been published widely in journals and anthologies such as the New England Review, The Missouri Review, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, and Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry. She serves as the co-poetry editor of the Los Angeles Review.