Mango is the King of Fruit
The T.V. entertains itself. My eyes
on you, spattering the tabletop with pulp,
the orange fruit, the knife
of equal brightness. The story goes:
your brother stole the fruit,
khaki shorts lost up the trunk,
then shoes hung down, twin crows.
You played look-out: cane field up the road,
kept your school-shirt clean, stopped passers-by
with made-up Shakespeare, breaking news of Gandhi-ji,
until the coast was clear. The owner never caught you,
though he chased with rocks, threats of police.
Your brother ran ahead,
while you tossed back, Sir—Uncle—
No need to be mad, even Lord Ganesh ran a race
to win a mango. And he was also fat!
Uncle-ji— don’t run so fast. Your face is getting redder
than the butt of a baboon…
You feed me straight from your hand,
saying Sorry, it’s not an Indian
mango. From Mexico, I think. Now your brother’s
five years dead. Your good arm shakes. The juice
has stamped a yellow hemisphere into
the placket of your shirt. You can’t go back,
the skin un-split, the flesh intact, so you feed me
the King of Fruits; I eat until my stomach hurts.
We turn to watch a cartoon cat with an axe
pursue a brown mouse over a ledge.
Underneath, there waits a pack of patient dogs.
We laugh, mop up. Run—you warn
both mouse and cat—run faster, brothers.
Meat and Marry
A nun and a swami walk into a bar. O.K., not a bar, exactly—unless you count the salad bar—
but, she was a nun and in the cafeteria of International House she walks in to her life, part joy, part joke. The room bustles—Asians, Africans, Scandinavians—a UN with plastic knives. It’s 1965, she has spent the last several years in a convent, so even white Americans look stunningly foreign. A guide, standing at her elbow, is talking, rearranging the pleats of a peacock silk sari. My mother tries to focus on her voice—high, tipping suddenly, like a flute on a roller coaster: no pork at this table; here no beef, Kosher, chopsticks, here no meat. She can’t identify the food; nine kinds of turban are within reach. People course by—black, blonde, red, yellow—they carry flimsy trays, but speak so earnestly. Out of this Technicolor glory, the world’s every possible character, my father. Out of the whole rich universe of words, he’ll speak just one, in English. He is the same hue as her first, brown leather Bible; his eyes flash, like rosary beads. She’ll learn he isn’t a swami, only a visiting journalist, from India; he speaks five languages, quotes Lincoln as readily as Ghalib. Today, she turns in a confused circle. He doesn’t touch her, but inclines his head politely toward his own plate. His voice is low, like a rocking boat, “Eat.”
One photograph—the only—with another woman’s writing on the back:
New Mexico. Novitiate. 1963?
Nearly impossible to see my mother beneath the Benedictine coif—
Nineteen young nuns in a row, each face
framed separately by immaculate white wimples.
This was my mother’s family,
between the family she left and the family she made—
Nineteen sisters carved like cameos, bright, but indistinct.
It was cold. We milked cows in a barn.
When we sang, “Cast away the dreams of darkness,” I could see
those words carried over the hay, on our breath.
At night, in the basement, nineteen women swabbed the backs of refugees.
I don’t know who they were. It didn’t matter. An open sore
is an open sore. You don’t need to know anything about it.
Will I ever come to a place where I don’t need to know anything more?
I want to see, though I know my mother’s face:
the French nose; the brown eyes greened in anger.
I have no faith, just a sore and a story.
Kirun Kapur’s work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, Crab Orchard Review, Beloit Poetry Journal and other magazines. She’s been a fellow at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Vermont Studio Center and McDowell Colony. She lives in Massachusetts, where she is the director of The Tannery Reading Series.