The Last Block in Little India

This poem won Second place in 2-Day Poem Contest 2020

Auntie lets lethargy cradle her bones
as she stands beside her stall of mixed
pickles and chutneys. She nods at passersby,
the creased skin of her cheeks like the spine
on a tattered paperback novel, broken
in one too many times. She presses
her thumbnail into the soft flesh
of her thigh as she shifts and waits,
make shapes with the indents;
an auspicious octothorpe, to pass the time.

Bhaia shuffles backwards past her,
rippled Bollywood DVD cases splayed
in his hands, bloated with sweat.
A bootlegging empire poised between
his palms. His youngest sits on a low
curb, keeping an eye on the warped
Tupperware bin full of faded potential,
her future college funds. Kal Ho Naa Ho
winks at her from the top of the pile.
Tomorrow May Never Come. Closing her eyes,
she catches a whiff of eggplant bharta
simmering somewhere in the low-rise behind.
She pretends it’s meat and potatoes. Sunday stew.
Wonders what it would be like to be Angelina Jolie.

Breathing softly from the carapace
of matted paisley blankets atop
his niece’s futon, Babaji awakes
craving chicken livers with red onion.
His atrophied legs ache all the way
to the marrow, muscle drowning
in the strong vinegar of age. The sky
outside isn’t hazy enough for him.
The air is too sweet. Too comforting.
He told everyone he would return home
to die. A wish his failing legs now laugh at,
barking spasms of pain up to his blanketed thighs.

From two floors above, Preeti cracks
the window open after her evening prayer,
leans out to catch the falling sun and help
it down. Her chuni slips off her head, taken
by a groggy breeze. It flutters down the street,
the old fabric rippling, peristeronic flapping,
a desperation to be free.