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NaPoWriMo 2023 Day One: I started something I couldn't finish

Artwork by S.H. Raza

Prayers are beautiful until they have no god to go to by Khatija Khan

in families like mine,

the first thing they teach you is to pray

to raise your palms and ask what you want

to wear your heart on your sleeve

and call upon god

to make a contract with the sky

and dive into the ground for sujood

and knit your forehead into the prayer mat,

the way a fisherman's wife knits

his death into his sweater

i remember how my grandmother

taught me how to pray

she said prayers are beautiful

until they have no god to go to

the same palms that play pianos cannot greet a god who prohibits music

so do not let your heart turn into a piano

because destiny calls both an organ

she taught me how to read the quran aloud

every beginning with an "alif"

led to an end at a "ya"

the ancient greeks believed

that when you read aloud,

it was actually the dead, borrowing your

tongue, in order to speak again

but whenever i open the quran,

it paralyses my mouth

my throat swallows the arabic verses

before letting them out

my grandmother refuses to return

in a foreign tongue

and i start praying over and over again

my present cherrypicks the past

on its palanquin

and sings it a bleak lullaby

my prayers sway between my first

childhood and my grandmother's second

as if they time travel in a city so strange

that they forget what they mean

all they do is keep replicating

as if i started something i couldn't finish

and as the days pass by,

i have got to believe

i will have to babysit them forever

because to me, arabic is alien

and music has become my religion.

Last April by Anjana Venugopal

Last April was filled with potential.

Little did I know that potential also meant that

there is the probability of leaving things to rot.

A lover, a plan, a job, a plant, a poem.

A poem sits in the dark, forgotten

The black ink blooms and burrows into the ground.

Untouched, the paper withers, bleeds sorrow.

All the letters climb back into the hollows and hide in squirrel nests.

I leave a trail of abandoned things in my wake.

I'd love to carry on, but the person who left mid-conversation is a stranger now.

How will I finish sentences when I've no clue who the fuck I'm supposed to be?

So I'll refer to every broken thing in desolation,

Past tense and hingeless pinch of homesickness.

Then go back to the myriad of new ideas plummeting in my brain.

And what's another half-dead thing in my conscience?

What if I wake up drenched in grief?

I do not know you enough to mourn you.

I do not know myself enough to regret.

S(MOTHERING) by Srishti Saharia

(Trigger Warnings apply)

birthing isn't the same as breeding

but for my mother, her daughter

is also her slaughter.

at lunch, she fries her fruitless faith

drenched in greedy grease and

starving starch on the stove,

picks her own bones clean

of blood and broth for dinner,

and blames it all on her inherited

breakfastless behaviour.

i am fed from hands that grab

broomsticks from behind

the doors and the darkest

corners of our house to shrivel

the skin on my shins either when

my report card carries Cs or

when the sun rises too low

or my moon, too high

and now my hunger has grown

teeth that cut my tongue into

speaking my ancestors' dialect

my mother is the prey and the prayer

that doesn't fit inside my mouth—

her apoplectic apologies are

sour candies stuck between

my milk teeth that i cannot bring

myself to swallow and forgive.

the first noose i ever wore

around my neck was my mother's

umbilical chord but not the last;

later on, her hands around my throat

baptized it black and blue and

the egg-shaped moles within

the nests of my collarbones

now resemble refugees with

a homeland.

she borrows the salt of my tears

for the sweat in her armpits after

she spends a quarter of an hour

stealing the light from my eyes

and all i can do is count jupiter's

days and my own on my fingers.

half moons and humid hues are

bitten into my thighs and my

my wrists evolve in saturn's rings.

i carry a back illuminated with

meteor showers and

a mellow and milky yellow meadow

where wooden melons grow

from quirky rootless vines —

as if she is god and my body

is the universe she gets to

conceive again but this time

out of cosmic violence where

my holy grail of sonnets is

my declaration of war for her

since i was five, i have recognized

red not from spring's poppies or

pomegranate seeds of july

but from my blood on her hands—

sometimes i think the lines on

her palms are traced more with

my fate than her own.

apathy is the shroud i wear to

sleepless beds instead of shame

to wake up with a ceaselessness of

moments and its light because

i can barely distinguish the sense

of a nightmare brewing inside

my oozing cavern of a head from

one upon my braille-lettered skin—

in the crevice of my dusty elbows

and knees that never learnt how to

bend to pray but only to bow to

magnify the waves of aggression.

art in age of cynicism is

the dislocated shoulder of

my coping mechanism and

the only tumor of tremor that

steadies the shifting tectonic

plates of my rumbling, fragile

ribcage made of stardust in

the aftermath of earthquakes

and godlessness–

my mother's shrine is my mantelpiece

so i auction my ancestry for

audible purgatory because

not everything with a beginning

is worth the praise and privilege

of an ending but this story has

been written many

moonless mothers ago —

and i cannot finish this poem so

i will buy my mother her casket

where she bought me my cradle.

Half-Cooked Grief by Prashanti Chunduri

Nostalgia, white, flutters in the wind, daintily.

Sea salt sprays the inside of my nostrils, stings,

ivory bonnet of my car blinds the eye,

marshmallows have the density of grief

in the hostile clear blue fishbowl above me.

I pause on the zebra’d road on the way in,

underneath a guardian demon’s marble wing, cracked.

Melancholy, black, beckons across the room, boldly.

A heavily-framed photo, larger than (the) life

the man in it lived, black wood carved with geometrical designs,

fancy and meaningless, a little less shiny

for bearing many fingerprints - indistinguishable,

for loss has no colour. But the thread Mother hands me

to sew the white chrysanthemums with, is a spool of tar.

Pain, red, waltzes with me, clumsily.

It steps on my toes, heavy-footed, distracting,

as I fumble with the Mobius Strip of death,

inadvertently crushing a few flowers.

Red bursts in my eye, as pollen-tears drip,

a spot of blood blooms under the needle threading the flowers.

Allergy-ridden and with two wooden left feet, I realise:

Farewells demand grey, and I,

I shouldn’t have started something I couldn’t finish.

Mothers and fathers are always leaving unfinished business by Pradipta Satpathy

on Sundays, my father leaves the television turned on with high volume to overpower the screeching sound of silence. who would tell him that there's no way he could shush away the quiet out of a vacuum, the stillness out of this house? he doesn't understand that the inception of a new noise doesn't reduce the frequency of the one that already exists, let alone finish it. that his roaring rage can't silence the voices in traumayard of a brain, the one he created in the first place. the television is still turned on.

all of my mother's sentences start with sorry. she speaks in the language of halved sentences and quartered truths. i can't comprehend if she carries a weighing machine for a larynx or is the belly of her mouth overflowing with stillborn sentences. the word grief makes a womb for "fire" and mother has taught me to never let it out for she has mastered the ways of an ocean. there's nothing she cannot contain be it a city or grief or fire or the city of grief on fire. the mother is still puking sorry sorry sorry sorry will it ever end maa? i'm sorry.

i am trying to write an autobiography which sounds more like an obituary written to self, only here the dead dies every day like a household chore. i wake up to mornings that feel like fire alarms but i cannot find the snooze button or the fire extinguisher either. i was born as the embodiment of a bloodied battleground where the war never stops and no one is winning. a failing marriage knocks on the locked door of my room every night and my ears have now grown hands of their own to press against themselves. i am as shallow as those wedding vows. my father's misery and mother's fragility live in the haunted house of my head and the ghosts are never meant to leave, are they? of all the things insidious and rotten, they've started a marriage and made a daughter. neither can be saved, only ended.

father says it took eight and a half months to build this house which is also the time my body lived inside my mother's lodged against her organs. bricks and mortars, blood and placenta. i believe there's more building left to do. the ceilings are leaking with damaged memories. there are holes on the walls from all the pain. cupboards in the kitchen are overflowing with my mother's guilt. the rooms poorly structured like my father's identity; on some days he turns into a proud man filled with stubborn rage and on the others, he's a troubled boy with fears buried in a fist. this house is a minefield and we keep walking on egshells. my parents started this family but i don't know how to stay in it or to save it.


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