On a hot summer day, a day
As hot as days in the city
Of hot days (sweltering, but gray
With humidity and gritty
Isolation), Ma tries to nap.
The radio plays a ditty
Of mother/daughter and the gap
Between nap and tears soon closes
For Tapati. Rising with sap
Grabs her phone. Her son, she knows is
Ill; a recipe of congee
(Less spice) to him she proposes.
“His stomach’s bad but woe is me!
I know he will cook it spicy.”
Seven seas away, a phone beeps.
Tapan sees it’s from Ma. Looks back
At his pan, stirs, sniffs, covers, and keeps
Coughing into his sleeve. Lungs crack
But he cannot stop cooking this
Dark, delicious recipe: rack
Of lamb. Ma’s text starts with a kiss,
“Beta I love you, please take care.
Eat bland food and know that we miss
You.” At his food he shoots a stare,
Doesn’t reply, but coughs. Headstrong,
Aloud he blames the fucking air.
Sizzling meat and cough work in song.
He throws in spice and knows Ma’s wrong.
Tapati sleeps, phone in her hand,
Sprawled across her bed. Curly black hair
Above her head in a tight band.
Her face looks calm, but her dreams wear
Down her morale. In a forest,
Walking through trees she is aware
Of chirping, rustling, her singed wrist
Glows, wolves howl, and the spiders hover.
Amidst this din, the sound of rest,
Voice of chanting she does uncover.
In a glade sits a bearded man:
Clad in orange robes, red leaves cover,
Eyes open, he proceeds to scan
Tapati before he began.
“A saint, a rhyme, a prophecy.
A mother worried for her son,
Sick, lonely, and across the sea.
A day will come which won’t be fun,
His life will end, your soul will bend,
Fruits of your labor will be done,
His tender art will come to end.
Far he has travelled to find what
Isn’t there and back home he will send...”
“What?” “Nothing but flavorful snot.”
Furious, foaming, how he dare!
She thinks and overcome by her hot
Anger she calls the vicious air
Which blows both man and untied hair.
She wakes up to the phone ringing.
“Beta!” “Yes Mago, did I wake you?”
“No, my child. How are you feeling?”
She breaks into silent tears. “Do
You know I cooked your lamb today?
I’m fine Ma, don’t cry. I love you.”
“I’m not crying baba--” “Be gay
Like I am. My stomach is better
And so is my cough… I’m astray
From repaying my sweet debtor,
Sleep, so I must leave.” “Goodbye, T.”
He hangs up and coughs wetter
Than ever. Dizziness seizes T;
In his sputum, blood he can see.
Happy with Tapan’s brief phone call,
Tapati drives to work in peace.
The roads of Calcutta stand tall
But the traffic sounds just won’t cease.
The crowd, the heat, humidity,
And noise work together to piece
A picture of this once great city.
Cars and rickshaws, buses and trucks:
Swerving through, Tapati is pretty
Unaffected by the wild flux,
But what bothers her is her dream.
The matter at the very crux,
What did that bearded, robed man seem
To say and why did her wrist gleam?