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The River-son’s Betrayal
Ganga, the river goddess,
drowned her seven sons as infants.
When the Vasus were still
unborn she vowed to release them
from their mortal forms before
she pretended to be human
and married a king who swore
to never question her. I too pretended
much for mother’s sake,
kept secrets buried in silt;
swallowed tumult of the adolescent
thrill of wrestling the other boys
in our neighborhood. At night
we kept our windows unlocked;
come morning, I tucked shame
in my braids as milkweeds
and fairy wands, myself a wild flower.
The king broke his promise
and stayed his wife’s murderous hand.
She returned to the blind dolphins
and perched atop a gharial.
The son ripened and his body
betrayed him to its flood.
Did she make a compact before
she made my body from her clay?
Would my father have tried to drown
me in the baptismal font,
himself, if he knew
some sons won’t be damned?
Touch Me Not
Son, you are fit
only for the greasy smoke
of the body burning on its pyre,
of women’s hair and liars’ teeth.
You can’t apologize
for a lowly birth,
this sea you must cross on a craft
lashed with your own bones.
Fool, you have not given me
a son’s gift, nor caressed
a woman’s breast as a field
that will feed for generations.
You can’t arrest the blood
vessel mid sea. I could wait
one thousand years for you
the plough’s iron weight,
a woman’s swollen belly over the bow.
But you are an imposter, suckled
at a dead heifer’s teat,
a Hepatitis crow,
a blight on this line, dropped
in the stable eating
vulture meat and spreading disease.
You’ve refused me your youth
and for this, my palace will torment you
with rubies you bleed
when thorns prick your quick.
When men ask
to which mount you belong,
you will look into their eyes
your hands stiff
with cow shit stoking a flame.
Vivah at the Durga Temple
for Akta Kaushal
Draupadi, did you take all five brothers
at once, each man squeezing the Mount Meru
of the other man’s nipples in excitement?
India was inscribed on your skin. When
Duryodhan pulled your silk did it prophesy
Sanskrit’s own unraveling; the partition
of desire by seen and unseen?
The Shiv Sena will assassinate me for saying
Arjun let Krishna drive his chariot,
you know what I mean. But what of your choice?
Brahmins malign you for their own myopia.
Were you between the brothers at night or
veiled, did you slide down the balcony and
into the tongue of Lalita’s holy fire?
jab kalapani paar karile bideswa jaye khatir,
urdat pakshiya kho jaye prem ke rang mein.
With your first coolie-man you relax your tongue,
don’t lock your closet doors when you light the stove
trying to keep the curry out of your cotton.
He wonders, Is this what it’s like for everyone else?
as he breaks one hundred glass churdiya against
the white wall of your Little India walk-up.
The rainbow shards in your sole erupt from the skin’s
surface as birds of paradise, hungry beaks open.
You feed them threads of folksongs from your silk
bruises and you open the windows. Falling in the cane field
you rouge your face. It’s too late. The bottle drank
him whole and his jamun berries stain your skin.
Crossing the Black Seas for a foreign country
the flying bird gets loses its bearings in love’s colors.
These poems come from Rajiv’s next book manuscript The Cowherd’s Son as well as one from his dissertation project. The first three rely on queering Hindu mythology, and the fourth one is a “chutney poem.”
Winner of 2015 AWP Intro Journal Award and the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry by Four Way Books for his first full-length collection The Taxidermist’s Cut (2016), and recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, Rajiv Mohabir received fellowships from Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. His second volume of poetry The Cowherd’s Son won the 2015 Kundiman Prize and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. His poetry and translations are internationally published can be found in Best American Poetry 2015, Quarterly West, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, Anti-, Great River Review, PANK, and Aufgabe. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, CUNY where he was Editor in Chief of the Ozone Park Literary Journal. Currently he is pursuing a PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i, where he teaches poetry and composition.