Back-home Games in Florida
for Emile Mohabir
The smell of rubber cement and crepe paper; the sky in purple—
A father splits bamboo skewers and glues them into an octagon.
Back-home we’d use the paper stinking of the gilbakka and hourie fish Ma’d bring back
A father breaks sacred thread.
Back-home we soak the string in glue and glass before we sail them into battle.
A father places a kite-thread in his son’s hand.
Back-home we gave them tongues that sang Hindi songs in the sky.
—and how we’d cut down the neighbor boy’s kite, two forms our senior, and how his
sister would smile at us as we’d walk down ‘til road-end. Back-home—
Somewhere a song waits to be carved into the sky.
Back-home after we cut down five kites, Madan put on the white sheet and scared the
pandit off his bicycle at midnight. He chanted the Durga Kavach while waist deep in the
trench, his dhoti soiled with piss and mud.
They enter the field. The kite does not lift like a swallow from the
II. Bottle Caps
On the driveway Emile and I pound them into disks—
Back-home, we’d sharpen the rim to cut each other’s fingers to the bone, and if we cut the opponents chord too, then their disk was ours.
—hammer out moons of cement dust leave craters to crouch.
The winners kept their spoils of disks and digits. But here, dis-side, you cyan’t. You can’t
play how I played it. There are rules and diseases here like tetanus and stitches.
With an awl Pap poled two holes in the middle of each, strung them with cotton
thread and spun—
Men don’t know how to drink scotch and swear-screech Hindi songs into the moonlight.
Men are so alone, and you will become wolves, hungry for a hump and some meat. Here
men fear intestinal worms from other men’s mud.
Behind the bungalow, Emile and I cut our teeth against the whir of the spinning
III. Leaf Seek
The whole of Skeldon to
Baba Grant, Road End watch
the halos of children, heads oiled
with coconut and moon,
swaying like leaves in the salt-breeze.
When the whole team bristles
against the fence of bent cane
hear the next team,
Aati-paati mango leaf—
—this side, who hides at night
in back-home, nonsense? Brown
boys in Chuluota are fewer
than mango leaves in the city.
Aati-paati lime leaf—
and all the coolie boys scatter
like crabs on the sea wall. It must get
moonlight fe play. Backdam wall,
koker, sluice gate, in cane fields,
in the jungle they hide until
the seekers, bearing lime leaves jail
them in the silver night. When you
catch a coolie babu by the longoti,
gi’ ‘e rass one leaf and then hook ‘em
like ma catch hassa in the trench
with a stick, watch she does jook de wata.
Dirge for Kamal-Mami
It’s late spring and the sun’s joy
is a shadow.
Dear Mami I never met,
this du’a is for my mother’s grief.
All morning’s she’s stitch ripped
the hem of her wedding sari’s fall,
untied the knot of its pallu
from my father’s dupatta
that skirted her away from you
in seven steps.
She should have burned
its silk in the havan kund’s sacred fire.
My mother’s throat quivers
its farewells as mantras:
arrows drawn, cascading
toward a house she built across the sea
with bricks of regret,
a life spent
rent in two.