My daughters have lost
two hundred and thirty-six teeth
They possess so many skills: they can
craft sophisticated weaponry such as blow-pipes,
lances and slings and know what the sharp end
of a peacock’s feather is for.
Last month they constructed a canoe
and saved the Purdu Mephistopheles from extinction.
They may not know that a bird in the hand
is worth noting but have learned
never to bleed on any of the auspicious days
and are aware that pleasure
is a point on a continuum.
I fear they will never make good brides,
they are too fond of elliptical constructions
and are prone to lying in the dirt reading
paragraphs in the clouds.
Their shadows are long.
They know many things, my girls;
when they are older I will teach them
that abundance and vulcanisation
are bad words.
When they sleep, they sleep heavy;
I go into their rooms and check their teeth.
She came from the skies, and tells tales of a black sun.
They say she’s been with child for 14 months,
so we’re to stop feeding her the tamarind extract,
guava juice and powder from Dr Nirmal’s.
She’s essentially a home-body.
I’ve taught her draughts and the metaphysics of presence;
she’ll stay as long as she needs.
Her arms are as thin as margins yet she can lift my children
with ease and do fly-fly with them in the garden.
She’s unpersuaded by science, my anatomy lessons
are just crude drawings
and she thinks our Doctors have terrible hands.
She believes in butter for burns, that flat stones never lie
and replaces everything with ginger.
The boys on the market stall love her. Her dupatta never slips.
She covers her mouth when she laughs, though her teeth
are perfect white pegs (more perfect than mine).
Someone long ago taught her to listen but not with her ears.
She is the sum of all her parts. Her face is moon:
there are plantings everywhere.
Each night she reassembles herself.
She holds court, cross-legged on the kitchen floor.
She can define emptiness for me in less than 10 syllables.
She says everything should be simmered to a thick reduction.
Girls like you are a storm in a tea-cup.
(‘The Daughters’ and ‘Cousin Migrant’ were first published in The Rialto, Spring 2014)
Mona Arshi was joint winner of the Manchester Creative Writing Poetry Prize in 2014. Her debut collection ‘Small Hands’ will be published by Pavilion Poetry, part of Liverpool University Press, in Spring 2015.