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Three Poems by Swastika Jajoo

all dreaming as amputation

“I write, erase, rewrite,
erase again, and then
a poppy blooms.”
– Hokushi, on his deathbed 


 on this shore, there is a body with an arm cut.
i fumble with the forsythia, that nudge of spring
before i am [re]called to the blood. a crow stares 
at the massacre in kind disbelief and inches
closer, closer till the body blends
with her blackness, detached limb
a souvenir for the sea.


i listen to this metered music of skin 
being wrung out beneath the still bright
still blue still sky. i watch 
that hallowed arm hurl itself
into the sea where it can finally be 
held. i am too tired to lift my eyes up 
but all eternity must after all be brief.


in the same dream, this sea recedes
into a cellular space and i fast forward
to a family funeral. in the brackets of mourning 
is a bouquet of lilacs and incense from a skipped
summer. i am searching for a fruit at the altar,
some nectar to ease the grieving. 


factually speaking, i am always jolted awake
at the instant of bloodletting,
never brutal but poignant
like a lover curating a goodbye mixtape.
inside: it takes seven minutes of sunshine for sensation
to return to my right arm. outside: a new season 
has started to finally arrive.


“and the days have daggers, and the mirrors motives,
and the planet’s turning faster and faster in the blackness” 
—Christian Wiman 

the months, too, have their mechanics, 
my mother’s wheezy voice on the phone, camera pointing to portraits
of dusk in December: the cat has given birth 
again and refuses to leave your grandfather’s chair. in this time zone
it is still peak afternoon and i break my dreams
like coconut shells, scoop up that fruit of sulk,
bring it to my sunken eyes,
recite whatever i know of history: i am alive & my mother
is speaking to me. cats cover
the entirety of the screen and we scratch the sky, this
lucky draw coupon, our smiles old coins.
in this dream, too, we are hostage
to language, both power cut and prayer. 
there is no semblance of a goodbye. just 
cat fur come to a pause and the voice i was just
hearing a shrunken echo. a teacher told me 
in a different lifetime
to have lucid eyes and never look away
so i stay till i cannot.

taxonomies of desire

after the first round of drinks and cheap appetizers
            half-moon crisps and peanuts doused in salt,
love becomes an easy topic to dish out — no more 
            a hiccup but the meat of the meet
that will marinate in stale dinner table air, 
slow show of butcher and butchered.
we start with the shy girl sitting to my left, she
            fidgets with the fish while telling us how
she is almost tired of her boyfriend but          
            at least he has a nice face. everybody
demands a photograph and we are met 
            with chiseled cheekbones but very sad eyes.
we all nod vigorously as though to approve her stance
            but we all know we are lying.
the girl to her left is so much in love that 
            after two drinks she can’t say his name right,
and the one to her left complains his politics
            are too right. 
i say “alright, i miss my girlfriend” in the same
            indiscreet tone i would use to ask somebody
to pass me the soy sauce. even freshly fried shrimp
            does not distract me from having to bear
lonely witness to that thickening broth
            of responses being silently contemplated. 
i will settle for vigorous nodding or laughter even
            but after the five seconds it must have taken for
God to create man, i get “wow, you are so…brave…” and
            after another five that it must have taken for
man to fling his shoes at God, “i have a gay friend too! you
            gay? bi?” and after another five it must have taken for
the first prayer to be born from pathetic plight
            “i’ve always wanted to know someone like you”
i want to punch all three of their faces but i 
            stuff mine with shrimp instead.
later, when i narrate the incident to a friend,
            she says “c’mon, it’s not that bad—
at least no one says faggot anymore”

Originally from India, Swastika is currently a Master’s student in Linguistics, based out of Sendai, Japan. Her poetry is much like how she understands her unparalleled love for the local matcha latte and the longing for her mother’s spiced chai: an exercise in navigation. She won the second prize in the poetry contest organized as part of the international Glass House Poetry Festival in July 2020. Her work is featured or upcoming in Eunoia Review, Capsule Stories, The Wild Word, Riggwelter, Muse India, and Huffington Post, among others, and her spoken-word pieces have been featured on UnErase Poetry, one of India’s leading spoken-word content producers. In April 2019, she gave a TEDx talk featuring spoken-word poetry at her school, Tohoku University. She was also invited to perform with Rolling Stone India for Pride Month 2020. Her favourite things are fresh snow, old books and a traditional Japanese sweet called anmitsu.