Let them come for what’s left:
a chorus of bone, river and soot.
Worthy enough. Holy enough.
Like all the others, singular—or not.
Wanting only for your name to blue
my lips and call it miracle.
Our love double-knotted, saddle-stitched
held the world together. Until it didn’t—
all the words you placed in me flushed
and faltered. From memory, I recited
their worn prattle—cut them clean
with my bite. The jungle we made in blame
grew and grew, fed on our melancholy.
Not even the birds knew to change their songs.
If you let me stay,
I’ll let you cut your teeth on my heart
until it becomes a black forest beating
out of time, beating me out of this world.
— Vandana Khanna, from “The Goddess Shows Up Late for the End-of-the-World Party,” published in Tupelo Quarterly
Back before color threaded
the world, when everything
was in black-and-white, I was
the only pagan at school, hiding
my breath with its curry and accent,
mouthing words to prayers I didn’t
understand. I wondered why there
were always holy men but so few holy
women. I wanted to be enchanted,
to steal the baby Jesus from the Christmas
play and keep him hidden in my closet,
pull him out when I needed to be saved.
I wanted to be the blue Madonna holding
all the pieces of her son together.
Half a world away, girls my age came
as close to God as anyone could be.
They were already throwing their bodies
over their husband’s funeral pyres, flung
out like blankets over the flames, chanting
Ram, Ram like a nursery rhyme. My mother
told me it was a holy mantra, the more I said
it, the holier I would be, but I never really knew
how or why, just that it was supposed to happen.
Once I tried saying it as many times as I could
in fifty seconds, but nothing. No miracle,
no halo of thorns around my head. And all I
could think about were those girls, widows
at fifteen. What did burning flowers smell like?
Something terrible, something holy?
- Blue Madonna, Vandana Khana
It has taken me years to tempt you
from your holiness—your name
scrapes against thick-edged leaves,
against felled trees and cave walls
where I’ve written my name
in vermillion, so you won’t forget.
I’ve called you out of your forest
into mine—see how the kitchen
gleams the sharp silver
of a mended heart. It’s sore
and pinches every so often.
Hours in front of a stove,
the oil spits at me from a pan
like your mother’s spite.
I mince garlic with hennaed
hands—a garden of orchids
blooming from wrist to thumb.
When the sky’s pitted
with stars, we eat mangoes
that make our throats itch,
remind us of the sweet pulp
of first love.
– vandana khanna
I will die in Ireland on a cold day on the coast
when the sea burns against darkening rock
and the mist hangs low over the hills. It will be
a Sunday because Sundays are the day of rest
and worship and because I have worked
a lifetime only to have my spine ready to snap.
I have never seen Ireland, and my family
will not understand my longing for swift wind
smarting my skin, my fingernails turning
the blue of cornflowers. I will want to be burned
like a true Hindu, my soul set free of this jaded
body, this broken vase - so my skin can mist
and my bones crack, a splinter like burning wood.
Vandana Khanna is dead. They will not understand
me far away from the heat and dust of Delhi, cloistered
in a damp room, my fingers stiff from writing.
This after years of thirst, years shivering under woolen
shawls brought back from Kashmir. They will not
understand you, feverish, whispering Spanish words
into my mouth because I love the way
vowels sound against your lips.
Or rather, I will die in Spain on a Sunday afternoon
when the stores have closed for the sun, men sitting
in the shade of a magnolia outside my window,
sipping from cold oranges, cut and soaked in sugar
water. I have never been to Spain but will want
that heat, reminding me of my home. I will die
from the inside out, a fever turning my veins gray,
thighs bruising easily like fruit.
And you will spread my body out like a cool sheet,
cover my hands with henna, thread my body with beads,
and no one will understand but you, because I
have worked a lifetime, and today I am tired of metaphors,
of empty leaves that rain like ash.
- Vandana Khanna