[NOTE: Our website is designed for desktop viewing. This poem's format may be affected when viewed on a mobile device.]
On this side of the world, my aunt was put to sleep before she could wash herself off her children. From her mouth are flowers, settling between her teeth like the golden spoon underneath my tongue at birth, butterfat and honey so that I could live long enough for the jata of my future children when their wives bear sons. Father, tell me the name of a god I can murmur until jaded. Give me a name that won’t unripen itself before the first karman where aunties thread jasmine bodies onto mother’s stained belly, empty spaces that still love me. Father protect me, repent for mother who will be pure after ten days, a girl so unclean they hid her after she gave her skin to me. There is only honey on the mourning table, glossing over our tongues when we offer mother to the gods.
They say a bare head will protect you from leering eyes that undress a girl teaching herself to forget and so when they cut my hair for the first time, my aunties hid broken coins behind my shaved scalp or else they would bear unlucky sons. A girl can dismember her own hips in the name of sustenance. You are now a boy, no longer an animal of regret. When my forehead was pulled over my earlobe, the village celebrated, our faces were swollen from sandalwood ash and soft baked rice. Every mouth kissed my wrist, trimming each other in golden joss that could be peeled dry, by the hands waiting for my body. One night, I grew a new head. It bore hair because mother never prayed after birth. Aunty dressed me in marigold bodies and placed me on the altar, upturned, so that I occupy no space.
My fat ears meant that mother did not have to bathe herself for ten days. Her body is spotless. Slice a part of her and she gleams wetly. They straightened my earlobe before lacing a golden needle through, a hole thick enough to be ringed, the last rite before I became a girl, mouthless. A daughter has to unspool herself from milk cakes and chai pots until she dissolves in the tongue like a wafer. Wait for her body to domesticate. When a man died, paapa sold me to the gods in exchange for his limbs. The monks bought me for less than three cups of assam tea and positioned me next to a burning incense, mouth waiting for jasmine smoke to speak lies for mother’s new child. They stole my ears and gave them to him, for his karna vedra.
Tara Tulshyan is currently living in the UK. Her works have appeared on or are forthcoming in DIALOGIST, Kitaab, Okay Donkey among several others. When she isn’t writing, she’s probably drinking matcha and reading newspapers. She is an editor for the Woolgathering Review.