Born 1931

Here, by afternoon the sun slants down like candelabra;
heart of mangoes shimmied fairy dust
on her back. My grandmother picks
the thumba flower talk of Ceylon ill with promise,
and placed the courtyard against her chest
the way each train’s melody fluted around her ankles.
When she left for good, houseboats
stirred like graveyard leaves, the fresh of every hill
wept die die and emptied
its palace of water gentle as ghee.
By then, it taught her how to traverse an accent
odd to her own. Hard to swallow
stuck in the throat is a home once loved.

Born 1966

At ten, my mother spends at the meat stall,
brushing chicken feathers away
from her face, the smell of blood rising
like poppies on a butcher’s shirt.
The radio thick with S. Janaki hitting
a note. Garden jasmine in her hair, my mother
dreams of singing one day and smiles; from
the other end she hears: “There’s a hell for people who dream.”
It did how knife devours flesh, how filling a lion’s mouth
is to carve your death. No one shut her dull brothers then,
roaming streets like rivers, daring to dream with chins high
throwing dust when the candle thinned poor and pleaded
the midnight lanterns make rage.

Born 1990                                     

In open calm with roses scenting our path
he has the mellow tasted that thrills at his traces,
such etchings on untouched waters that run like silk
of a peignoir. Yet, I wait for him to reach my implosions,
the inveterate dark fruit meant for malady:
unloosened tongues, fanged fuchsia, the quills of a madden bird,
a woman refused, a woman ravished. All
swollen to release, like shudders in a bowstring
which he cleverly keeps hungry.

Born 1997

Perhaps now is too early
to sweat gold pins on my wedding
watch crowds pile flattery dissolve like icing
at the lip of this banquet. Tell me, when the chandelier
flies away like a cicada and stars hum
children’s songs, ripple into sheer gems
as I garb the ocean’s sylph soft as a wink for a veil that
never fit. These heels more of a stranger crack
earth. Above them budding lilies
puddle up in hennaed palms, the books put
away. I hear my results are declared. Mother says
such things taught me nothing, cherish nothing
but only the essence rendered by marriage. Her voice
is the man who  picks up my eyes like dropped comets
who lets them blur without sending them back.


Rushda Rafeek

Rushda Rafeek is currently based in Sri Lanka. She serves as a Fiction Editor for The Missing Slate magazine.