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tearing the rag off the bush again
Two poems by Athena Kashyap PDF E-mail


Until early this century, Hindus believed that if you crossed the oceans, the “black waters,” by leaving the physical boundaries of India, you would lose your identity and become an outcaste.

              crossing black waters

Once she stepped outside, her skin

dissolved. She struggled to stay


afloat but as years distanced her

from the caress of the Ganges


that once swept her plains,

holy hum of her hidden


Himalayan caves, she grew

weak. Just when she started


to drown, webs of seed,

teeth, and hair unraveled


to release her, let her float away,

guided by loose, unkempt stars.


coming down the mountain

for Shiv Ram Kashyap


Great-grandfather enters my room in Los Angeles, clutching two clumps of roots still bleeding Himalayan mud. He says he’s sorry to come so late at night, but he can’t find his way. The family house he built in Lahore still stands, but neighbors have moved in and his family is gone. At the University, the botany lab he founded no longer bears his name. His students have aged terribly—they look right through him. He has trouble with his eyes, sees just half of everything—his students, the map of India on the wall.  Even the city landscape is missing parts—temples, sari shops, certain street names. The last thing he remembers is climbing the mountain, up from the city he once knew and loved.  He looks so tired, I want to help him but am myself adrift, barely flickering in this city’s sea of lights. Our family’s dispersed like seeds, searching for each other and their own selves in clouds of lost mountains. I see, says Grandfather with his half-blind eyes, but then he’s gone, waving dead roots in my face.    


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