Media Gallery

Back-home Games in Florida

for Emile Mohabir

I. Kite

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
from Skeldon.

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
son’s hands.

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.

 and spun.

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:

flaming dawn-
arrows drawn, cascading

toward a house she built across the sea
with bricks of regret,
a life spent

rent in two.

Rajiv Mohabir received the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry by Four Way Books for his first full-length collection The Taxidermist’s Cut (Spring 2016), the 2015 AWP Intro Journal Award, the Kundiman Prize for The Cowherd’s Son, and a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant. His fellowships Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. His poetry and translations are internationally published or forthcoming from journals such as Best American Poetry 2015, Quarterly West, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, Anti-, Great River Review, PANK, and Aufgabe. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, CUNY where he was Editor in Chief of the Ozone Park Literary Journal. Currently he is pursuing a PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i, where he teaches poetry and composition.

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