Poetry / Vandana Khanna

:: Reconciliation ::


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. 


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. 


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.