“History (with a Melon Cleaver)”
The summer of 1947 was not like other Indian summers.
Even the weather had a different feel…When the creation of
the new state of Pakistan was formally announced, ten million
people—Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs—were in flight. By the
time the monsoon broke, almost a million of them were dead,
and all of northern India was in arms, in terror or in hiding.
—Kushwant Singh, Train to Pakistan
They stood in line to buy a slice of melon—
My father and my uncle, in cantaloupe season.
When the boy in front reached out to pay,
The melon seller waved his cleaver.
This was Lahore in cantaloupe season:
Summer was working up its heat.
With one hand the melon seller waved his cleaver
Over a bright, thick slab of fruit.
Summer was only beginning,
But already the days had grown hot.
A cool slab of sweet melon
Was everything two boys could want.
But already the days had grown heated
When the boy in front reached out to pay.
Chilled melon was all two boys could want,
Or so my uncle claimed.
When the boy reached out to pay,
The melon seller brandished his cleaver.
My uncle paused before claiming,
With the other hand, he stabbed the boy with a dagger.
The melon seller brandished his cleaver,
Drawing all eyes from the fruit.
He stabbed the boy with a tiny dagger,
Putting his other hand to use.
All eyes flew to the cleaver—
The boy fell on our feet.
No one was watching the other hand.
This is how my uncle told it.
The boy fell on our feet.
My uncle’s voice was full of wonder.
This is the way he told it—
As if a comet had passed overhead.
My uncle’s voice was full of wonder:
The boy was reaching out to pay.
As if a comet had passed over
My father and uncle in melon season.
This selection comes from Kirun Kapur’s poetry collection Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist, available now from Elixir Press. Purchase your copy here.
Kirun Kapur is the winner of the Arts & Letters Rumi Prize in Poetry and the Antivenom Poetry Award for her first book, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist (Elixir Press, 2015). Her work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, FIELD, The Christian Science Monitor and many other journals. She has taught creative writing at Boston University and has been awarded fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Vermont Studio Center and MacDowell Colony. She is the founder and director of the North Shore arts program The Tannery Series and serves as Poetry Editor at The Drum Literary Magazine. She was recently named an “Asian-American poet to watch” by NBC news. Kapur grew up in Honolulu and now lives north of Boston.
Jane Huffman is a current MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a staff eDior for Sundress Publications. Her poetry is featured or forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Moon City Review, Radar Poetry, PHANTOM, Word Riot, The This Magazine, RHINO Poetry, and elsewhere in print and online. She lives in Iowa City, where she teaches literature in the University of Iowa English Department and serves on the poetry staff of The Iowa Review.
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