Her cooking is the honeycomb
that keeps him succulent.
He is seated, King Kong, at the head of the table,
she is unseen, in the kitchen,
sweating in holy profusion, sanctified by
self-sacrificing labor,
the okra is fried to perfection, has been soaked
in tamarind juice, the sesame seeds pounded and ground
to a paste, poured exactly five minutes before the flame is turned off,
simmering, turned side to side, not too brittle,
supple, gleaming in grainy white coats,
she smugly concedes periphery jobs
to a daughter-in-law,
who is allowed to chop and measure out,
forbidden from the fine act of cooking in this goddess’s kitchen.

There is a hushed silence
in the sanctity of this evening ritual,
the primary steel plate for rice,
the quarter-sized plate for sides like papadamus,
chutneys and avakai and a second vegetable,
a katori for the sambar or kutu, or perugu,
into the meal, this plate might be a repository
for chewed drumsticks, avakai bone, tamarind,
the paraphernalia of supporting herbs
the flotsam and jetsam of ingestible food.

He eats, connoisseur of gastronomy,
she sends him sidelong glances ascertaining his judgement,
every scooped slurped bite is a religious act by a God,
he keeps his face impassive
careful not to spill out too marked an appreciation
keeping the possibility of pride in check,
doing her a favor multiplying her virtue.
She understands his face as a farmer knows his soil,
displeased, his face can turn dry and cracked as a drought-land,
as a linguist know phonemes and syllable—
a twitch, a blink, pause, measured stare
and silence are signs signifying things:
a refill of sambar without the vegetables/
a refill of sambar with the vegetables/
a refill of sambar with only the bottle gourd/
the need for raw onions/not enough salt/
he scrutinizes the rotis, tad over burnt, he says,
she is mortified; chastised she hurries to re-make one
more perfect round moon in this perfect harmony.

And I watched always exiled from this
soundless solemnity for a decade,
wondering, why,
I could not see the beauty of it.


Photo by Aarti Krishnan from Pexels

Usha Akella

Usha Akella has authored poetry, a chapbook, and scripted a musical drama. Her latest poetry book, The Waiting was published by Sahitya Akademi in 2019. She was a Creative Ambassador for Austin for 2015 & 2019. She is the founder of ‘Matwaala’ the first South Asian Diaspora Poets Festival in the US (www.matwaala.com), and is a co-director of the festival. She has won the Nazim Hikmet award, Open Road Review Prize and Egan Memorial Prize. She has written a few Quixotic Non Fictions published in The Statesman and India Currents. Her work ranges from feminist/activist to Spiritual and all things in-between.