An old quarantine – A Poem by Suchi Govindarajan

An old quarantine

My mother’s knives are sharper than mine
and before I know it, I have drawn one     line of pain pausing before it bleeds
I tamp down my cries as I open    drawers, Band-aids, Dettol bottles
I tip the bloodied onions          into the quiet din of her house
                        now what did you drop you were always clumsy like your father

In March, I fled out the teeth of countries closing their maws
Larger bird forced back into the nest   beak clean of memory
feathers bereft of the barbs that help    zip up trauma
                              you waited for government orders to be home with me

And then it is not the dreaded fever but another one that
boxes her joints     forces her to need me
                            I would rather crawl across the house than have you lift me

her eye creases are filled with dried salt   our life is an island and
a sea of other people is rushing away in lockdown
                       what if I fall when you lift me I don’t see how you have the strength

One evening when our street is rustling with a new neglect
I promise to make her tomato soup like we once drank on a train together
I crush my bruises into new tomatoes   tear coriander away from its roots
The old cooker sniffles and sighs   without ever sounding steam
                       did you never learn how to use one it was always so hard to teach you

And then, when I am trying to bring her to our table, I lift her from behind
My body now stiff as a frame    My mother a painting held inside
                                     wait don’t oh am I walking by myself now?
A shock of laughter and then   something familiar in the air like affection
We drink our blood-red dinners    without striking stones this time
Remembering how each carriage is coupled to the other with chains
But how the train always rocks the night gently    as if it were a cradle.

Suchi Govindarajan is a writer, poet, and photographer who currently lives in Bangalore, India. She’s the author of three picture-books for children (Pratham Books, India). Her work has appeared in publications
like Cordite Poetry Review, perhappened magazine, Usawa Literary Review, and Himal Southasian. It’s also been included in two anthologies. Poetry is her first love; fiction is her newest. Twitter: @suchiswriting

Banner Art: “Folded Petals” detail from a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2021 Twitter: @frede_kenter

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