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carrying on collecting prayers, repeating om shanthi & imagining i’m inside

some pastel temple. white peacocks flash their beaks in the verdant

anywhere, & the boy cranking a megaphone his mother painted

blue & poppy with a dried grass paintbrush—he has a name, receives

no check-per-play, & on YouTube a male commenter writes : travel to India

is one of my dreams, this video makes it stronger. i vow & vow against this hymn—slow motion

& splicing & for some reason Beyoncé lording over slums. drunk & high when she gestures

a clumsy Bharatnatyam—all draped dupatta, metallic lip gloss—i’m being too extra

in public again. yeah, i want y’all’s permission to take it back—her airbrushed crown,

our wedding jewelry—but here are so many white faces, tilted up as in ecstasy, & i can’t

argue, there is a certain pleasure in consuming packaged Otherness, like catching the bouquet

when there’s already a ring on your finger. no point asking

for what won’t be given—instead, i pray : no Bharat as a scene up for the taking—

as they say in the States, bless your head full of dreams for visiting. my eyes are closed

& i won’t lose my temper, want a world where my people aren’t background, refuse

to be an extra in someone else’s weekend again. like the scene, timeworn, where my white ex

queues up Bollywood compilations, screws an invisible bulb, laughs & later

punches me in the face. how i forgot & was then reminded : this was his shot. again

i am lost & cannot help but leave the bar, walk myself down the street,

my mother’s prayers the soundtrack to my slow journey home. & still

am haunted by caricature : an old-school film reel.

low-cut red gown barely holding in Bey’s tits. a bunch of villagers

eating this shit up. Christopher, i’m begging you : take off

your mandala-clad leather jacket. all this playing dress up got me feeling i’m trapped in the story

of every white boy’s colorful past, sitting in a plush theater seat, watching my own life

derail. wipe the color off your face, Chris. let your legs wind you

backward, onto the plane. let the garlands not be props. let kids on concrete roofs smile

& re-palm that ethereal paint, crowd around someone who’s less of a ghost.

romance something of your own.

Raena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), which won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a 2019 PEN America Writer’s Emergency Fund Grant, a 2018 VIDA scholarship, a 2017 Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University, and a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize in 2013. Her poems have also received prizes from Cosmonauts Avenue in 2016 and Gulf Coast in 2014. Shirali’s poems & reviews have appeared widely in American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A Day, The Nation, The Rumpus, & elsewhere. She recently co-organized We (Too) Are Philly—a summer poetry festival highlighting voices of color—and serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine. Shirali lives in Philadelphia, where she is an Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University. Learn more at

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