Baggage

i wake up one sunday morning,
half-open blinds streaming
white winter sunlight. you
spread a tea-stained crossword
across my lap, and wonder
if i know a ten letter word for
nostalgia.

when june arrives, it feels like
i’m looking at your face
through a rain-soaked
window, but i can still hear:
the sound of your smile,
the crunch of your morning frosties,
how you’d tune the radio to a
channel that does not exist because
you enjoy the sound of
static.

so in a tiny airport, headed
nowhere, when i’m flipping through
a book and i chuckle at the phrase,
“avocado colored refrigerator”
i know you would understand why
i bought the book in an
instant.

my summertime movies have
a side of pastries, but
your hair smelled strangely like
icing sugar and now, all
my future powdered donuts are
tainted.

and when i’m writing on the
back of my bill in a noiseless cafe
out by the river, i dip my fingers in
white sunlight and wonder if
the answer to nostalgia could be
heartbreak.

so if i see you in the middle of a
crowded grocery aisle, bagel in
one hand and chilled yogurt
in your cart, i will tell you:
my head is a messy place to be in,
so why don’t you pack your
bags and move
away?

The Wall

We were early, not fashionably so. I had my ragged notebook in hand, my sweater the color of spring sunshine. When we walked in, our footsteps curious, the slate grey floor echoed our nerves.

I found a seat in the front and instantly made eye contact with the large, hand-painted wall at the far end. It was acrylic on brick, pastel on muddy brown, stories in every crack.

I heard a switch click on, flooding the room with lights that matched my sweater, breathing life into art that smelled like a wallflower. I saw five people, huddled around a table like it was their own little secret.

Jimmy played his guitar in a corner, for friends who liked his music better than him. I saw a violin on the next guy’s shoulder, he had struggle on his face and a rip on his faded white jeans.

The man in the center – I called him Karl – had his cards fanned out in the way that experts do, and a drink on the coffee table. He gambled the night away with his two other friends, mischief hidden in his dark brown eyes.

But when I was drawn into things that were more poetic than Jimmy’s guitar or Karl’s poker face and saw heads down, hair streaked with the glow of active smartphones, words tumbling into poetry with every breath, I felt Jimmy play along, Karl set his cards down and the violin? The violin was finally in tune with our shaky words.

Dear Extended Family,

We don’t meet for months because living in two corners of a metropolitan city is almost like living in two different time zones. The only phone calls we make are on birthdays or report card days. We don’t have many traditions that make our hearts smile.

But every year, when the quiet buzz of festivity rolls around, we pack our suitcases with ribboned boxes of sweets and take off to a little coffee plantation 150 miles away. We make the 8 hour drive, someone (usually me) pulling out their camera and stopping to capture the foggy state highway every 2 minutes, mother complaining the whole time. We crunch on honey toast and family gossip, turn the stereo up and the windows down and watch tech parks turn into windmills in lush green fields.

When we finally reach, the house welcomes us with open arms and a tray of lime juice. Muddy shoes are thrown under a bench, tired bodies collapse into couches, the place is soon filled with warmth and laughter and twinkle-eyed baby cousins.

It is the only time I sit down at a dinner table and have a meal surrounded by my whole family, gravy bowls being passed around, uncle-who-lives-abroad screaming for a fork. The next two days turn all of us into religious South Indians preparing for the biggest festival of the year. We thread jasmine flowers into garlands, wash and clean banana leaves, stir big pots of payasam, light clay diyas to place on our doorstep and stain our hands with rangoli powder. The men sneak in a card game or two while the children play badminton in the drying yard, eyeing the large cardboard boxes filled to the brim with crackers.

When the light outside dims, we put on our brand new kurtas and finely embroidered salwars and come together in the midst of ringing bells, whispered mantras and burning incense sticks. A large plate of sweets is passed around, breaking all our dinnertime rules.

The cardboard boxes are finally ripped open and we watch the sky explode into blue and red sparks. My favorite part isn’t the firecrackers, though. It is watching the lines of worry disappear from faces brightly lit by a sea of sparklers, waves of happiness washing over all of us.

With every passing year, diwali holidays were replaced by tests to study for and work projects to hand in. Our band of tradition-keepers grew smaller. This year will be my first diwali away from home, with Netflix and cheese nachos and no sweets. But I promise you one thing: I will wear my new silk salwar, light a set of diyas for my doorstep and watch out for blue and red sparks in the sky.

Love,
A former tradition-keeper

Magic?

It’s a sunny afternoon, we’re done for the day, eager to head home to the ice-cream in our freezer – and that’s when we see you. An image flashes before my eyes, one that I haven’t seen in years: the bright-eyed little girl with plaits in ribbons, white blouse neatly tucked into her checked skirt, hoaxing me into a tree-to-tree game. So we call out your name, fingers crossed that you might turn, and in that split second that a million strings of fate untangle, you look up and stare us straight in the eye.

But no, I don’t believe in magic.

So what was it like, finding you after a decade of switched schools and lost phone numbers? It was as easy as hopping on a bus, getting off an hour later and finding ourselves at an open mic: packed with a creatively starved audience, the careless strumming of a guitar, dozens of fairy lights and the nervous munching of our loaded fries. I felt the butterflies escape as the flutter of poetry filled the quiet of a late evening sky. I wouldn’t want my first open mic attempt to be with anybody else.

But no, I don’t believe in magic.

You call me up one afternoon, tell me you’re being spontaneous and surely, a visit is in order. I find you at my doorstep in a few hours and as the night wears on, we bump into some grand adventures with unplanned sleepovers and planned gatorade. And as we spend all morning walking around town, finding insipid coffee and aesthetic brick walls for the polaroids we keep in our wallets, I feel the comfort of home wash over me, knowing I needed my monthly dose of happiness.

But no, I don’t believe in magic.

As you get ready to leave, we trace our stories backwards and plot connections worthy of constellations. You open the package I’ve left you and tell me that this particular book of poetry has been unduly stubborn about falling into your hands. I tell you that’s because it’s been waiting for you, one spontaneous bus ride away. My fingertips tingle as I type this, and yes,

I start to believe in magic.

Subway

Newspaper crumpled as it was
folded in half, travel-size. The
late night metro smelled like
all the school kids and pressed suits
it had transported on
a rainy Monday.
You stared into the pitch black
of the racing window,
worn out eyes, hands fidgety from
the lack of a cigarette pack.
Your faded Nirvana shirt reeked
of sentimental value. I tucked
my glasses in my coat and
looked up to find you staring.
It wasn’t the kind of eye contact that
flattered you or even sent chills
down your spine. It felt
more like you were scanning
my every move, sizing
me up, counting
my breaths.
A dropped keychain,
an unfamiliar cough,
the shifting light from the windows.
I wandered into the bar, it smelled
like happy hours. We were
the only two people who would
rather be sprawled on the
corner sofa than dance
to EDM’s Top 90.
I was two beers down and bursting
with conversation. You laughed
at my shower playlist, that
annoyed me a little. So I
attacked your striped pants and
called them a midlife crisis.
I told you why piña coladas in Maui
were my alternate universe. We
argued about serial killers and
war films. I told you where all
the underground bookstores were.
The night wore on, you emptied
your pack of cigarettes. I had
never discussed Murakami
with a stranger before. It was
half past two when we
finally shuffled out. You put on
your coat and offered to share
a cab. You told me conversations
like ours don’t happen everyday.
But I let you walk into the
Monday rain, where we were still
strangers on a subway.

After Hours

I sit across from you, cross-legged, uncomfortable.
This sofa isn’t made for singular conversations that make it
through the night.
I fumble around for the remote,
there isn’t one.
So the raucous blaring of a
music video continues.
There is cheap wine, white:
I like the bitter aftertaste.
And there is music, the kind that
doesn’t stick with you,
but reminds you of an old song
you might have heard in a jazz bar
that can only be described as blue.
I laugh at our mistakes as high strung teenagers, indie posters taped over
fragile bravado, secrets stashed
below the bathroom window.
You steal a look at the book on
my night stand, I tell you it is about
shoveling snow.
We talk in metaphors, so I fetch you
a cup of liquid nostalgia and we
flirt with disgruntled singers and old
photographs that still smell
like the ocean.
The light shifts across your face,
no need for a clock. I play
with the idea of crossovers and
classic margaritas, crowned with
indecision and loud, seaside laughter.
You call me cheesy and throw my
mixtape out the window. We find
the tangled strings that lead us
to each other, and idly wonder what
would happen if we undid them.
I am struck by the feeling that I should
write about this for people don’t stay,
but poems do. I laugh at your joke
about ferries, but the whole time
I am wondering how long before
you leave, too.

Ice-cream Parlors

Ice-cream was just an excuse.

It was one of those study days when conversation was a patchy, red tan suitcase bursting at the seams.

There was jazz on the radio, muddy orange lighting and pink guava waffle cone in the air. The cozy little parlor was it’s own little bubble of hope and flurry, within the bustling everyday’s of a city.

We sat on the faded blue wooden benches, our chests exploding with the delight of sound and silence that actually held meaning.

Grey skies turned a violent blue, shades of green turned darker still. Few people came by.

And we talked.

We talked about people; those we cherished and those we were better off without, those who changed our lives for the better and those who made us who we are.

We talked about places; places we’ve seen, heard, lived. Places we’re yet to see, hear and live.

We talked about times in our lives that left it’s pearly white watermark on us, showing us what we’re made of and changing us in ways we cannot fathom.

We talked about lessons we’ve learned the hard way; our tiny dreams in a big, scary world and the carousel of fears that runs our lives.

We talked about the essence of everything that was important to us.

It was terribly hard to stop, to not feel the buzz of a thousand lightbulbs and the tingling excitement in our fingertips.

It felt, for the first time, like things were not merely said, but understood.

And as we walked gingerly down the stone steps, trembling and scared to touch something so surreal, you said you finally understood what it meant to feel infinite.