He was my mother’s sister’s cousin’s boy.
A train streaked red, like on a holiday.
In the papers, they say it was a mob. Mobs. A whole village
west of Civil Lines. We heard
that soldiers would be deployed. We heard
you couldn’t drink anymore from the Ravi.
We called her Pinky, though her name was Parvati.
As she died, she told me,
inside her skull she could see the sky.
What is the point in crying?
Mala, Tara, Devi, Rani. Reports
may be exaggerated. I stopped believing my eyes.
Hindus halting northbound trains.
Muslims stopping southbound trains.
Hot oil. Machetes. I watched with my own eye.
Did I tell you, we called her Twinkle,
though her name was Aysha? I don’t know how to explain.
All the women’s breasts cut off.
I believe some reports were exaggerated.
Samir, Sadiq, Saleem, Sonny.
I couldn’t say how many.
We planted wheat those days. We planted melon.
As he lit the match he whispered,
My son, you must cover your eyes.
We were a village of 15 men.
We were 25 hiding in the donkey’s shed.
I would have killed them, gladly
but they were already dead.
Veena, Sita, Zara, Asha. Don’t. Please don’t—
She traded her life for mine.
2 million. 12.5 million. 22 million. On foot.
By air. By bullock cart. Vanished. No trace.
We left everyone behind. The man who carried her away,
I’d known him my whole life.
The milkman I called Uncle.
The neighbor I called Brother. The woman down the road
we all called Sister. Dragged by her hair. Found in a well.
Her name was Mumtaz, but we called her Little One.
His name was Rafiq; his name was Ram Das.
Someone you’ve known. Someone you saw
with your own eye. I don’t talk about it.
The bedroom ankle deep in silk and kerosene.
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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