Atlas

I think we learned to name cities
before we had actually seen them,
Small French and English towns
states in other continents
islands peppered along the seas,
We learnt to hold them on our tongues
before we could be there
smell their air
hear the chatter in cheap street-side cafes
with red and white checkered tablecloths,
Walk their cobblestoned roads
and feel the sun shine
in a hundred different ways,
We once had the map
a hodgepodge of words in our mind
like the mush on a party plate
and that was enough.   

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My Swimsuit

I am wearing my swimsuit
but my skin gathers
like fat jelly under my arms
My hair’s dry
in this coastal air
and you can see the fish-skin
scaling my winter legs
I look at them and check
do I have frog-webbed feet?
My back is speckled
with spots from a coral bed
So I run into the sea
and swim,
A brown wave
In the blue waves, waves, waves.   

Birthday Cake

You remember when ma
Walked from behind the curtains
A cake frosted with pink flowers
Placed delicately
On a black tray?
A knife tied with a ribbon
And all the children
Gathering in a small circle
Their potato-chips-and-chowmein-filled plates
Making way
for a slice of cake

Something about the memory
Pastel wax candles
in between cherries
Is hardwired into my brain.
I stand in my kitchenette
Midnight in a foreign city
Hands flour-coated, sugar-dusted
And wait
for a thin float
Of the old vanilla birthday cake
To rise in the oven

Other kinds of green

1. the green of leaves just after rain
2. the green of a muddy pond where lotuses bloom at night
3. the fading green of mangoes that make the best sour candy, pickles, chutney
4. the colour of sky on a road with no street lights
5. seaweed deep under water, curling around your toes where sand mixes with water, only to be found later in a hotel bathtub

Hide-and-Seek

I have half memories
of us as kids
and I am not too sure
if this is how it was

you tell me we shared a swing
when I was younger
small enough
to fit between your knees

standing behind the water tank
quiet and still
you and a shadow
in a hide-and-seek game

when we played House
your kitchen
always had jars full of sugar
and I was at your door
every two minutes

I remember sounds
cold feet on a marble floor
running away together,
someone pouring Bournvita
into a pink mug,
a smaller white cup

I think it was you
who showed me my first globe
see? this is how all oceans and land folds
around the curves of your fingers

I like thinking
of my childhood as ours
holding half our memories
like too many Gems-coloured playballs
knowing you have
the other half.

 

If I could have a garden

If I could have a garden
full of lush potted plants
lacing the backyard,
Slowly I’d learn to name the flowers
Dahlia, hibiscus, lilies

When you come home tired
I would make you some lemonade
Then smile and say yes,
It’s from my garden, 

In the evenings
I would get my hands muddy
Fill them with the smells
of sand, fertiliser, lime leaves

I’d source small chillies
for making the lunch
and if you’d like more spice
I could just run outside
and get them from my garden

You see,
I have been dreaming
of small blood flowers
folding into cherry tomatoes one day,
now how lovely that would be,
If I did have a garden.