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Krishna’s Mother Advises

Watch out for the one with pink cheeks,
with wrists that can twist to music. 
She wants you for the wrong reason:
the way the blue of your skin reminds
her of the sky after a monsoon. 
No matter how much rain,
the color stays the same. 

The cows rustle in the bleached hills,
in soft tufts of grain, urging you to resist  
her tender shoulder, the smooth slope of back. 
Resist her slim ankles, her milk-scent, her wonder. 

You can name every flower, every animal
in the darkening forest, and she, simple,
only calls out the obvious—marigold, peacock, bull.


Hindu Goddess for whom the practice of a widow throwing herself on her husband’s funeral pyre is named

My heart is no lantern.
No matter what they tell you,
it’s not all marigolds and Ram, Ram
like some Hindu cheerleading chant.

At first, all I wanted was fire:
soot-lined skin, my hair in needles
of light and heat, the tight fist
of lungs like a blazing hive. 

Red flame, blue flame—it was all the same.

But then, right before my bones
flared like torchlight, singed fingertips
smoothed to a shine, I thought
of the cool cusp of the moon,

river water soothing my throat,
contracting around me—
a muddy womb.  Muck and silt
lining my mouth like a new word

for smoke, for freedom. 

Instead I have cinder, all this
useless ash cupped into
the curve of my body, sitting
on my skin for an eternity.


Parvati: A Wife’s Mantra

It has taken me years to tempt you
from your holiness—your name
scrapes against thick-edged leaves,
against felled trees and cave walls
where I’ve written my name
in vermillion, so you won’t forget.

I’ve called you out of your forest
into mine—see how the kitchen
gleams the sharp silver
of a mended heart.  It’s sore
and pinches every so often.

Hours in front of a stove,
the oil spits at me from a pan
like your mother’s spite. 
I mince garlic with hennaed
hands—a garden of orchids
blooming from wrist to thumb.
When the sky’s pitted
with stars, we eat mangoes
that make our throats itch,
remind us of the sweet pulp
of first love. 


Krishna’s Mother Speaks of Her Regrets

I am stiff with losing.  Child
after child unfurls from my body—
each one a peacock feather,

each one turned to ash
before I can name it. 
All except for you—

my last one, my blue one.
At first push, the night sky
puckered with lightning,

my body leaked over
the prison floor
like the moon’s cold

drizzle to dawn,
my womb swept clean
for the last time.

I can already smell
the cow’s milk on your skin,
the wet grass and marigolds

where you will roam. 
When you arrive in town,
the cows shine yellow

with turmeric: your birth
announced not as a god,
but a boy, son of a cow herder.

Your whole life in disguise. 
Now every time the wind
rustles I know it’s your flute

calling over hillsides and rivers,
across fields of rice—a world away. 
My ears how they prick, how they lie.  


Vandana Khanna was born in New Delhi, India, and received her MFA from Indiana University.  Her collection of poetry, Train to Agra, won the 2000 Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize.  Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Crazyhorse, Callaloo, and The Indiana Review, among others.  She currently lives in Los Angeles, California.