Playground Weddings

At first glance, I thought it was a joke that there was a huge group of well dressed individuals gathered in the main square of Downtown Rapid City. As I got closer, I saw the white tent, DJ and a huge sign congratulating ‘Hannah and Sam’ on their nuptials. 

It was a wedding reception, right in the middle of several pedestrians, cars and shops attempting to shoo away little children in suits and dresses. It was a strange place to have a reception, too public and too noisy. I don’t know how the wedding party were dancing around while traffic loudly went by, less than ten feet away. Not to mention, the several people who were gathered around the wedding party, watching like hawks.

By now, I was too curious to walk away so I went closer to the party, noting the ginormous wedding cake in the corner of the tent. A few people walked by, one of them rolling her eyes at the grand and obscene matrimonial celebration. I wonder who had broken her heart. 

“Why are there so many women in white?” I asked my Mom who was also transfixed with the party. After living in America, we were yet to witness a wedding, white dresses and Taylor Swift themed dances included. The only wedding I could remember was my cousin’s and she was so miserable next to her groom that we spent the whole time eating never ending plates of food and watching her sleazy husband flirt with the bridesmaids. While the focus there was on the family, this wedding was different. The bride and groom were being celebrated. People were happy to be there, even if their dance moves were a bit questionable at best. 

To answer my previous question, Mom pulled out her ally card, “Maybe it’s a lesbian wedding?”

“A polyamrous one, apparently.” I replied, referring to the multiple women in white

She didn’t say anything else, instead she swayed to the sound of Elvis crooning about rivers flowing and falling in love. My eyes landed on the groom and bride. They were twirling around the dance floor, staring into each other’s eyes. As I watched them, the traffic and nosy onlookers seemed to disappear. True to the numerous romance novels I’ve indulged in, there was no one else in the room but them. I felt embarrassed to watch them but I couldn’t get my eyes off the white and black blur.

“Let’s go, we don’t belong here,” Mom dismissively said, pulling me away from the magic unfolding before me. She was right, I didn’t.

Paper Lanterns and Shakespeare

“Write about the lanterns.”

I was 10 years old and my family was in Vietnam for our summer break. During one of our small evening trips, we reached a small village where we walked around and ate dinner in a small stall. While waiting for my dad to finish taking the perfect picture of a Vietnamese market place, my mom was hit with a bolt of inspiration. Every night, people would bring their lanterns, slowly place them in the stream outside the village and watch them float off, only to be found by a lonely fisherman somewhere in the middle of the sea. It was a magical sight. My mind immediately went to my favorite movie, Tangled. I strained my head but couldn’t see a golden-haired girl on a boat anywhere.

“Write about lanterns?” 

I was confused why she asked me to write about paper lanterns. A part of me regretted ever telling my parents that I liked to write. Now, they believed that I could create a Shakespearan level sonnet out of anything, nature, imperialism and paper lanterns. I wasn’t an artistic genius, sometimes I thought my talent was a fluke and any minute, someone would pull the wool over their eyes. I wondered how a four line poem about a sunflower led to this. 

“Why don’t you write about lanterns?”

She rolled her eyes at the idea. “I’m hopeless at writing, you’re the poet.”

“One poem doesn’t make me a poet, Ma.”

I noticed the slight disappointment in her face. She shrugged off my comment and took out her phone and handed it to me, the brightness turned up to 100 and illuminated my face. “Look around you, there’s so much to see and experience. Better write it down or else you’ll forget.” 

Mom pointed to the pink lantern that passed us. It was slowly moving up and down because of the soft waves. It had flowers all over and a bright yellow light from the center. I watched it for a few seconds. It was fascinating how something so little could capture the attention of a hyperactive 10 year old but I couldn’t seem to move away from it. Like the people who had put the lantern down in the water, I felt like I was letting my worries and problems disappear with the movements of the paper lantern. Up and down, side to side, knocked over and pushed back up again. Despite the waves, the lantern pushed through and kept the flame going. 

I think I know why my mom wanted me to write about a lantern.

Firefighters

Loosely based on real events

“Many fires are started by firefighters. They feel the need to experience being a hero and saving lives so they decide to take it into their own hands.”

I usually don’t pay much attention to the crime fighting TV show that my family sits down to watch every night but today’s opening line caught my attention. As the show delved into a case of a firefighter who set off fires in his hometown, I remember something that I had experienced as a child. If I focused hard enough, I could still smell the smoke in the air and the kid shoes on my feet. 

  1. A person who fights fires.

Tall men and women in hefty uniforms. I would watch them with my father with wonder and admiration as they exited the big red engine into the smoking building. They emerged victorious as they got the uncontrollable element under their fist. Their extinguishers posed and ready to fight against the raging heat.

I was nine and dressed in Disney pajamas as the apartment I lived in was evacuated. The gated community of Palms Colony had been shaken awake in the middle of the night with the shrieking fire alarm. The house above mine was on fire and we had to leave immediately. There was panic, fear and uncertainty. My heart hammered as I struggled to find my parents, who were disappearing among the masses of people running towards the street. 

“Help!”

No one could hear me.

“Mom! Dad!”

People were rushing outside. My voice drowned in the chaos. 

“Hey, kid? You looking for someone?”

A firefighter, already dressed and ready to run into the fire. His name tag was a number, 3465.

I nodded and he guided me to the tent where my worried parents were waiting. I thanked 3465, whose face was still hidden behind the helmet. He nodded and sprinted into the building. I watched his back disappear into the smoke that people were running away from. He looked like an angel of death, only a silhouette was seen. 

An explosion. Screaming and panic. Shards of glass scattered on the concrete. Pieces of clothing and someone’s fur coat was falling from the sky like a twisted metaphor about rain. Smoke covered the night sky like a blanket. I wandered closer to a tag that had fallen from the building that was completely destroyed now. It had a number on it. 3465. 

  1. A person who enjoys fires.

This was the fifth fire in the last week. No deaths and minimal injuries in all the situations. Firefighters emerging as heros against a simple, tame fire. Journalists joked about how the fire department just needed some PR to help raise funds. Cops laughed but kept their eyes open for more friendly fires. 

“Fire on Lowell Street. I repeat, fire on Lowell Street!”

Three fire engines sped off towards the church that was already smoking. Its patrons had escaped but the element raged on, destroying the pews and the heavy gold cross at the altar.

He jumped out of the engine, extinguisher ready to work. He pulled the helmet over his eyes and ran inside the smoke and chaos. In an ironic twist, the inside of the church looked like the very thing they feared. The walls were blood red and the heat was enough to kill, and it could have. As he searched for people, he heard a small cry. A young girl, barely 10, covered in burns. He grabbed her and ran outside, covering her body with his uniform. “I have someone! Here!” 

The ambulance sped away with the young girl, her parents were sobbing and thanking him. He smiled and muttered something about duty.  It was all in a day’s work. 

“Good job today, go home and take some rest.” The fire captain thanked our team and dismissed us. The fireman grabbed his bags and headed to his car. HIs heart was racing, adrenaline pumping from the events of the day. 

His ex had given him a copy of her old apartment’s key a while back but she had moved out and moved on. So he took a turn off the highway and entered the gated community. It was late now, nearly 11 PM. He grabbed a container of petroleum and matchbox from his trunk and headed upstairs, taking the steps three at a time. He entered the house with his key and dumped it in the trash. The petroleum lines he drew were shaped like flowers. The fire followed the oil closely, clinging onto the curtains and sheets that covered the remaining furniture. His eyes were as angry as the fire. Satisfied with the damage, he sprinted down the stairs into his car and drove off, the fire behind him consuming the house. 

“3465? 3465?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“There’s a fire in the Palms Colony Apartments. We need you, can you be there?”

“Will be there. Let’s save some lives.”

Just Keep Swimming

To anyone who has ever felt burnt out doing the thing that they love.

When I was 10, I spent an entire summer learning how to swim. It was a surprisingly rare feat for someone in my immediate family, considering the fact that my dad was the only one who could do more than dip their feet in the shallow end of the pool. My parents enrolled me with a swim instructor in my neighborhood pool where I would grudgingly wake up every morning at 6 AM and spend numerous hours in the pool. I learnt free style, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. My instructor was an eccentric man who always taught the strangest phrases to remember how to swim. My personal favorite was the term “bobbling” when referring to breathing underwater by letting out bubbles. He would send me under the water and yell at me to “Do bobbling!” in order to cement an instinct in me to breath.

To his defense, it worked. I didn’t die. 

The lessons began as enjoyable to me but, like many long term engagements I would get into, I began hitting a burn out towards the tail end of my summer. I was getting tired, irritable and longing for a summer of sleeping in till 11 am and wasting time away in the burning sun. Rather than that, I would find myself in the pool, bobbling and swimming along the long end of the pool. I would ask myself, what was the point of all this?

Eventually, this irritability began to show and it became harder to keep my head above the surface. I would spend less time under water and kept popping up for air. My instructor was very mad at me. After all, the point was to learn how to swim without needing air every five seconds. Everytime he would follow me as I freestyle back and forth, he would watch me pop my head up for air, even if I didn’t need it. I would apologize but proceed to do it again. And again. And again

He gave up with me but not without leaving me with a sentence that would follow me through life. It was during the 40th lap I was undertaking. We were both exhausted, tired from the sun and ready to get the day’s lesson over with. I stopped myself from my unbreaking freestyle stroke to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t, I can’t do it.”

My teacher sighed, “Why are you not trusting yourself? What is scaring you?”

I realized that I had no answer. I had nothing to be afraid of. 

The entire summer, I had spent with my breath. Breathing in the salt water, 6AM wake up and watermelon juice my babysitter would make for me after practice. Breathing out anxieties of sore muscles, no time to see my friends and tight swim caps that would suck all the blood out of my head. 

But after weeks and weeks of constantly holding my breath in, blaming exhaustion for my fears and nerves, it was time for me to let it go. Exhale the feeling of burning out and get back in touch with the reasons why I fell in love with swimming in the first place. The feeling of freedom, having no control over my body but also being hyper aware of every movement my muscles made. 

As my instructor would say, I had to let out all the bubbles and

just simply breath.

A Very Large Expanse of The Sea

Freeing. Scared. Cold. 

The ocean is a mystery to me and a recently discovered fear. After seeing images of the large bodies of water that surround us, countless shark movies and a couple of close calls, I never really enjoyed being in the ocean for too long. However after watching people race into the shallow waters of Fort Myers beach and the dolphins jumping around, I felt inspired to strip down to my swim suit and jump in after them. 

In theory, I shouldn’t have been afraid. There was a huge gap between the sandy waters near the beach and the red zone where the water dips. I knew how to swim. I had back up, my family sat around me and several other beach goers. So I jumped right in, feeling a cold feeling wash over my legs. It felt good.

“This feels amazing!” I reaffirmed to my Dad who nodded back, still wearing his sunglasses and hat in the water. I sat down and let the waves hit my back. I felt myself falling over and I let it happen, the sand clouding my face. It burned but I felt giddy and got back up again. The ocean can be cruel but I allowed it to play its games. 

Even though this part of the ocean was full of people running in from the beach, I felt like I was the only person in the water. I stretched my arms and felt the cool water against them.  The waves were gentle on my skin. When I lay down, no one crashed against me. It’s just me and the water. 

My cousin yelled, “Let’s go further!” 

In my state of delirious joy, I nodded and we swam closer and closer to the end of the safe zone. Our parents couldn’t see us and soon they became small dots in the distance. I kept on swimming, ignoring the fact that the sand under my feet was getting lower and lower. I felt free. I felt whole. 

A wave crashed against me. I was not prepared for it so I got knocked off my feet and down into the water. In a terrifying moment, I realized there was no sand for me to land and my head hit the water. The waves had turned their backs against me and pushed me further down. I couldn’t breathe, the salty water burned my eyes and my cousin was nowhere in sight. 

I had pushed my luck and went too far. I was alone now, no one to help me out. A fight or flight instinct kicked in and I pushed against the crashes and swam towards the beach. Even though I was close enough to make out the lines on my Mom’s beach towel, it felt like hours before I resurfaced, heaving and red in the face. My eyes were burning now so I splashed some cold water on my eyes.

As they adjusted to the light, I focused my sights on the red buoy I had crossed. It was only two miles from the beach, but it felt like I was so far away when I was in the water. I suppose that is the power of the ocean. I was among thousands of people and animals, but for a moment, I felt like a speck in the very large expanse of the sea.

Calcutta

Inspired by Brown Girl, Bluegrass 

Calcutta 

Capital of West Bengal

Colonial Capital of British india

Also known as Kolkata or Kalikata, for ease of Anglican tongues

Calcutta 

My birthplace

The City of Joy, Food, History And Music

Home of College Street

And Victoria Memorial, a large marble dedication to the usurper, or better known as Queen Victoria

The Indian Museum

Park Street

The birthplace of artists like Tagore

Martyrs like Teresa

And girls, like me.  

Where my grandparents spent their entire lives, raising their two daughters

Where my parents met during their masters program.

The place where they got married. 

Where I was born,

On a cold, January Sunday in the hospital furthest from my mom’s home. 

Currently, the city where my grandparents still live

Where my grandma spends her weekends in the Calcutta Club, playing poker with her friends and enjoying the luxuries of colonial practices the Brits forgot to take back with them

Like well dressed butlers

And being called “ma’am”

And being proud patrons of an elusive “gentleman’s club”

The city where I spent my early childhood

The city where my best friend lives as his father serves in the Army. 

I haven’t visited my home in over three years.

Calcutta, the City of Joy

Amma

This poem is written about my maternal grandmother, I call her Amma. The first few lines are Bengali, the language that we speak. Enjoy!

Baba high court judge chillen. 

Amader Patna bari khoob shundoor chiloo

I wish you could have seen it, Roshu

Our sprawling bungalow in Patna, 

Filled with vines, wild mango trees and dogs. 

Judy the greyhound

Wendy the dachshund

Ma’s pet deer, before it became illegal to own one.

She kept a garden in the back where she grew vegetables.

Of course, she was never the one who cooked them.

There were multiple secret passageways for a little girl to get lost in.

The rain in the monsoon seasons would pitter-patter against my window frame.

The humidity would cause my hair to frizz,

Oh, if only you could have seen it, Roshu. 

Baba commanded respect, his people loved him. 

He stood up for the low wage workers, 

Argued for the little guy

I hope you do the same, Roshu.

The house was full of music, light and colors. 

I wish you could have seen it, Roshu. 

Before, well, everything.

Before the demolition, court cases and family against family. 

I wish you could have seen it, Roshu. 

I know you would have loved it, Roshu. 

Model Minority 

A continuation of my rage towards the general population- Enjoy!

I’ll be can be your best immigrant 

I can speak 3 languages other than English

but never by default 

I’ll share stories of my homeland at parties

but not too often. 

I mean, this is America!

I can laugh at your politically incorrect jokes 

even if they’re at my expense

I’ll bite my mother-tongue

I don’t want to hurt your feelings.

I’ll spare you from the tales of my past,

My trials and tribulations

That brought me here.

Because, after all

isn’t it so much better in America 

than wherever hellhole you came from?

I can hang an American flag on my front door

and pray that no one looks inside. 

Phoenix Girl 

“In order to rise from its own ashes

A

Phoenix

First

Must

Burn”

 Burn

Burn like the soils of my homeland 

Burn like my skin when I would walk outside in July 

Ashes in the sky

Pollution and smoke 

Remnants of the celebration of the Festival of Lights 

Ashes on a pyre 

First

I’m the first daughter to come to America 

I’ll be the first to graduate from an American college

First, a child of my motherland

Then, me. 

-Quote By Octavia Butler

a first kiss

we burned our tongue on hot pavements

in a parking lot, at three pm, ninety degrees outside

i wished that it would burn your taste off

so, i wouldn’t feel it

i tried to cut my lips off

the traitorous pair 

betraying my every wish to stop and run away

my hands need a sawdust bath

my legs could be fine sitting miles away from here

 on a boat to antarctica 

anywhere from here, this body

this mind

this guilt

anywhere would be perfectly suitable

for a shameless girl like me