As Us

A Space for Women of the World

Nandini Dhar – Poetry

Watching (The Maid Servant’s Daughter Stares)

(after A. Van Jordan)

Look at her.

As I do.
While running the old rag along a sooty sill, licking this line of dust.

This house, where walls thicken
with light, at the touch
of a fingertip.
This house, where china tea-sets
decorate the glass case on the wall,
kept forever under lock and key.
This house, where my mother makes
the cement floor, shine like mirror,
mopping it on her hands and knees–
once at dawn and once in the evening.
Here, I walk in–
every noon, after school
every noon, after school.
To help my mother
take care of the tasks,
which do not require work at all.

Like, sweeping these window sills.
Rinsing plates which my mother scrubs clean.
Filling the buckets in the bathroom with water.

I do not speak. Even when spoken to.
And I stare. I look.

Learning things about everyone in this house.
But especially her. This girl my age.
Who I have been ordered to call bon
And who can. Can keep my mother away from me.
Seven days a week.

I can tell she has never
left home for school
with a pain spreading
like a peacock’s tail
inside her belly
pushing up her throat
into a colorless vomit.

Just look at her.

This girl– trimmed little bangs
clouding her forehead, blacker than
a raven’s feather, holds a plate of food
in front of a toy bear, begs and begs it to eat.

What will she see if she ever
peeks into my open mouth–
past the tongue, the yellowed teeth
into the cavity through the throat
into the belly that loves to imagine.

Will she ever smell my dream–
the steam of the boiling rice
the petal-white of each grain on plate
the ghost of a meal,
which, I know,
stands between us like a bedpost
that my ma’s hands fail to move
even to sweep-clean the dust underneath.

Nah, I look at the mangoes she eats
leaving full pieces of flesh still stuck on the seed.
And I stare. I can look
at any child’s just-finished plate of rice–
how she leaves the chicken bone unsucked, unbroken.
The fish still on the bones.
Uneaten grains of rice.
The mothers urging to do nothing other than to eat.
And I know what I need to know. What I want to know.

Nandini Dhar - headshotNandini Dhar hails from Kolkata, India. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Potomac Review, PANK, Yellow Medicine Review,Permafrost and Southern Humanities Review.Her work has also been featured in the anthology The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Writing. She teaches postcolonial literature at Florida International University, and co-edits the online journal Elsewhere.

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