they sometimes ask you whether you
look more like your mother or your father
so this past week you stuck your finger in your mouth
and found yourself gliding through the backwaters of allepey
diagnosed with kerela.

with kerela:
that place on the malabar coast of india
where your father’s ancestors sweat through
over four hundred years of colonisation.
those foreign bodies
unable to resist
the sweet water of your
coconuts, kerela
the kiss of your sun,
the mahogany of our bodies,

as a kid you remember hearing your father
speak in malayalam on the phone and you
do not understand what he is saying until you
listen to the water beneath you

in kerela
where the men
lift their lungis to embrace the breeze, the
women mutter prayers in the backseats of cars
you – you take your right hand
try your best to pick up each grain of rice
watch them cascade from your fingers
like the language from your tongue
like the culture from your body

when your father takes you to india
for the first time he introduces you to
distant relatives who already know
your name

in kerela where
your grandmother embraces
your body like a postcard.
you: the picture from across the ocean
that comes every once in a while in the mail
plant it on the fridge:
hope that it grows when she is not watching

her fingers are wrinkled
like the tributaries of these waters
they know where they are from
and they know where they are going
and your relatives eyes are turning
pale blue like the sky of kerela:
always looking up for what
comes ahead

your grandmother sits there next to you on that
houseboat in allepey and sings along
to the classical songs from the radio
and you want to pale blue cry because
you do not know the words to sing along

you see, grandmother:
i have a nose large and stout
like my father, but
sometimes i feel like a tourist in my
own homeland. sometimes i feel like
the portuguese / the dutch / the british
when you grant me your blessings
and spend all day cooking for me in the kitchen
do we deserve your hospitality, kerela?
we, the twigs torn from your branches, kerela
tossed across the world and forgetting the
gentle kiss of your sun, kerela

and achamma, my grandmother,
i promise that i will not cry when
your ashes rise to the sky or the
ocean (your choice)
i refuse to pollute your waters, your dignty
with the salt of my tears,
only my sweat.

so i will work hard at it:
take my fingers and trace the outline of my brown body
the way we have traced the roads and rivers of this land
and i will remember you kerela
like the quiet faith in my grandmother’s eyes
the incessant raindrop of her prayers
those beads of sweat on my back.

support the author