Forget-me-nots

i.
At home we give food
first to God,
then to the crows,
then to me, to you —
I saw you do it every day,
I was three years old,
standing at the kitchen door,
talking to birds:
“did you like it? do you want some more?”
The day you taught me
to make dosas, your thin, crumpled hand
guiding mine over the black stone,
spreading batter round and round.
It blisters and I flip it,
perfect, I feel perfect,
you give some to God,
I give some to the crows.

ii.
Four years later I only see you in monsoon.
We’re in bed, a thin cotton sheet
spread over our bodies,
fan blades slicing through
still, muggy air, you smell like
Vicks and baby powder.
Rain drums on the burnt orange shingles,
I spy the outline of a lizard
wriggling up the wall and shudder.
I ask you for a story
and get the ones I know
so deep I can trace them
on the roof of my mouth,
the back of my teeth,
in that way I fall asleep.

iii.
It’s still dark when you wake me,
I slip on rubber sandals
and follow behind you,
watching the hem of your sari
float over dung and rotten bananas.
We shed our shoes
at the temple door, I clench
my toes on the oil-slick stone
floors, littered with petals.
I do everything you do but
two seconds late, and when
you fold your hands and mutter
prayers, I fold mine too and think
how I’m going back so soon.
We reach out to catch banana-leaf bundles
smeared inside with red powder
and turmeric paste, which you
dab on your finger
and smudge onto my forehead.
You catch holy water from the can
And smooth it over my hair.

— Gayatri Surendranathan

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