Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 2



Akhila Kolisetty


conditional greencard

I was not supposed to do this, I was not
supposed to be here. In the temple, next to Vishnu, I

fainted, the smell of agarbathi was too strong, suffocating,
and I felt weak when I was too close to God,

for I didn’t want to believe in God. I wanted to rage, rage
against the world that told me that I had to be

an anesthesiologist or an investment banker. I didn’t
want to put people to sleep, I wanted to

wake them up. I wanted to rip the world apart at its seams, to
clutch the deep underbelly of its darkness, to touch

humanity’s blackness at its core. my body could not contain
it all. I was too incensed, and incense could not soothe me

because this world was mad to me. I was all bushy haired and
overgrown eyebrows, but still I snuck out at midnight, back at

4 a.m. nana found me in the basement as I held a beer in my hand
a bong to my mouth pretending like I’d belonged, that is all I ever

wanted but all of me was quaking inside, getting out of this suburban
shithole meant I could have a dream and a hope, and I was

young, golden and stupid. but what I didn’t know, we didn’t have those
freedoms because we’d come from another land. they'd let us in to

good ol’ Murica so we’d keep our heads down and crunch those numbers, no
we wouldn’t cause no fuss, no, we wouldn’t shake nothing up, no we

weren’t political people. we’d dispense you medicine, take you to court
all for a cost, the cost of our souls. golden girl me, I was too exquisite,

but I blamed my amma, she never meant to sacrifice me. she was a prisoner,
putting her head down like she was told, and all too early she

fell into that hole, covered by twigs and lost limbs, lost sentences and lost souls,
but she told me, amma, do not rock that boat. we survive, we survive so

we can grow old. you are my golden girl, but do as you are told,
but she was too late, I knew I was golden, golden as smoke.




Silver

I

with the mist
blown away by sun-sand,
we
dreamt of faith and
rain drenched lands

with our tears turning
sighs into water, rivulets
running into the earth,

growing trees joined
by spirits and silence.

II

the nightingale’s dark song
lifted my thoughts into
the mountains,

warned me of the shadows
between my feet and
the deception of
the crumbling
moon.

and I dwelt that night
among the reeds and
the silver silence
of the crickets.

III

when I returned, my house
was no longer a home.

i settled in with the dust
and cracked hardwood,
closed my thoughts
and tied my eyes;

and I blended into the
silence and shade

in the walls of a house
no longer a home




Italian of the East

tata used to tell me that Telugu, it’s a language
of exquisite sweetness and melody. it’s the
Italian of the East. the most beautiful script on the planet,
he said, its rounded letters like curlicues and fantasies
formed of broken smoke rings in the
muggy summer air

my tongue lives in perpetual exile,
barely able to shape those sounds, the words
that gave voice to home, a home
long lost

(why couldn’t Italian be the Telugu
of the West)


broken by monsoons, I could see the frogs dancing while I
dug up amethyst beneath the backyard neem tree

we used to sing these songs, ammamma said. when she sang
longing strains of old Carnatic refrains, it was like
Krishna opening up his mouth to drown us all in the
universe of possibilities

the British never knew
what we were singing. it was our own schoolgirl

secret

tata would tell me about the freedom fighters,
until the day that he died. the nightingales, the poets,
Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, who fought for us not with arms

but in
verse

*

though I cannot comprehend those words, they
come out of me

seamlessly

like a second skin

*

standing in the Roman Forum, I’m
crumbling to pieces like these
fragments around me

for once, to be in the
heart of empire
now laid waste

but he had never left the shores
of that country he loved. that fought to free him, that
birthed him from the sweat upon its
brow

if only someday, I could have such
belonging


Akhila Kolisetty: "My poetry has been published in Lily Lit Review and is forthcoming in Sky Island Journal. I’m a lawyer and advocate in Brooklyn, NY, and currently work with victims of domestic violence in family court."




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