sporklet 14

Meher Manda

Some of Many Women

Before I glided into an us, I lived — still — outside of this body.


Where I, this writer


watched: the shock of pink splattered on a summer evening, the small men with big bellies, the line queued outside the ration store and cars flying past without honking, the wicked games children play in their brevity


unmoving like scared, quiet like solitude, alone like friendless


and separated because this body was still strange, alien like, Godliness watching the first leg erupt from a small cell, or however all this came to be



Us was only you and I. You like mother, like salve, heat, sweat, and touch, like arms pulling my frailing length from drowning (a pitiable death) in a flooded gutter, like a long, well-oiled braid of hair that taught me what hair is, like colour that asked for colour, like hunger that feeds a meal, like eyes, loud and gluttonous, boring into mine


I learn to mark you, freshly condensed in your juices, watching me


I learn topography with my fingers running along your varicose veins


I draw portraits where each body is a version of your body and thus a future for my body


I sing songs in a lilt betraying my true intention. I learn to hold a note just to be heard


I cradle your stomach in my arms, paste my ears to its rupture, and listen to the world unveil itself with clarity: the sparrow’s song is chirpier, the tree composes a tune to the rustling wind, the ground, rumbling and attentive, the sky, imminent and watchful, and the planets revolve to the same music as the maracas from songs you love—cha-ching cha-ching in space



You point out the others: the young girl who watches her mother whiten, the aunt who stretches the seams of her saree with bony fingers, the fish lady who sits outside — there, under the crisp blue of bright summer with eyes beading out — not hers but of the fish — the loose end of her skirt drying up hot sun, the very round woman in the local train who unpeels green peas that land in a tiny steel box like jewellery, the ticket collector who side-eyes women in the first-class compartment — for not belonging — with her thick, round glasses, the young woman who leans dangerously outside the open vehicle with relentless long hair, the woman on the news who reads about the outcast who makes the news — separated from her by mere sliver, the child who pees shamelessly on the side of the road, the old grandma who smiles with her gap-toothed mouth split open, and the other mothers of your choosing.



You learn to love it all. The women, their bedtime folktales, how the Lord’s prayer lands on your tongue like a kiss and culls out of your racing heart a shrine.



The world shatters into me like a conundrum. Teaches me words, big ones too,


and how to weep — not from hunger and separation — but in despair. How to swallow sadness for a meal and lodge it in the back of the throat.


How to come out of violence, splintered but pieced together with glue. The tears and cracks showing.


How to sing along to the rhythm of the guitar, songs about sex, love, and politics.


Sweetheart, I sing, show me more. Show me space turned pink from ecstasy, a woman lunging at the sky for a blanket, a boy liquifying into puddles, and better kisses. Show me kisses better than the Lord’s prayer.


Show me how to move my hands, I cry, and where to place them.


Show me how to read.



There, in the music, I spot the others: the infamous sylph who spreads into conversations like a dirty secret, the names — Akanksha, Fatimah, Priyanka, Kaveri, Rivka, Manasi, Karisma, Ananya — reborn with stories, the mothers who named and shamed their growing bodies, the drowning women, the women who learnt to swim, the women who began breathing underwater — grew gills and tails and everything, the women who began to live — with children in tow — in sunken ships, the women who cruised a vessel and manned the sail, the women stitched-up, with bunted bodies and fistful hearts, the women with henna-ed hair, women with funky vaginas and saggy breasts and rolls of fat protecting their bodies, the fallen women and the women who kneel willingly, staggering forward with bruised knees.


I love them too. Much to your horror.



I revolt, dig at my itchy scabs, watch them ooze blood, embrace the chemical, frown down its acrid taste, and suspend like a question mark from your favourite tree. Your eyes convolute with disgust. Your hands lunge at me like an animal, take my elbow and wring it like a wet cloth, hope for it to drain, among other things, this world. I return, bent and unchanged.



The truth: I am my mother’s daughter and I take to love fiercely.


What do I know of sacredness and its obstinate rules when there is so much to touch outside its hold?


I stockpile for the records. Collect us under the canopy of the oldest tree — and decree us a country. Scratch our surface; its peculiarity under my nails for DNA. Become a pall-bearer for the dead and a poet for the willing. Be daughtered, mothered, sistered, and loved into a collective.


Us like land tearing itself from the violence of the whole continent, like water assembling into war, like a votive offering, like the chorus of a song.


I, this writer.


And you, mother, torn from fealty. You hadn’t imagined that I could mother myself simply with attention.



When I leave you, I leave you all. Pull myself from earth like smoke airing the clouds. Choke in its poison.


In Urdu, the word Hijr is both a separation from beloved and a desertion from country. When I leave you, I am both alone and homeless.



Like a split clause, I carry this body like an ellipsis.


When the man — at the departure terminal — tells me you look like someone I know, I say — but of course — I do. There can’t possibly be just one of me.

Meher Manda is a poet, short story writer, journalist, and educator originally from Mumbai, India, currently based in New York City. She holds an MFA in Fiction and is the author of the chapbook of poems, Busted Models, published by No, Dear Magazine and Small Anchor Press in 2019. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared and are forthcoming in Catapult, Hobart, Los Angeles Review, Peach Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere.