“Our bodies are normal & meant to be revered.”—Ma1

I learned to dive at the edge of a pool, palms together
     pointing at blue.

Ma’s boss was not my daddy but I had none to speak of.
     When I broke her favorite platter and said I didn’t
     (the etched blue rosettes) he asked, Who can keep
     track of the lies?

It was his house, his pool. I sat at the padded patio set
     a halter top tied over my bathing suit (damp circles
     seeping through) as his wife parceled out lasagna
     cubes, the silverware noble, glittering.

Some nights he stayed over and in the morning chewed
     eggs loudly in the kitchen, his jaw clicking, insistent.
     Naked, he prowled the house, sometimes limp
     sometimes erect.

Ma liked showers so hot they scalded skin pink, steam so
     thick I choked on it. Try to breathe, she said. Endure
     it—the warmth of her spooning me in bed, her cactus
     legs, my breath rising & falling with her chest.

Can I get it right? Am I mixing the two? He emerged from
     the shower, lurid I want to say but the word is humid,
     humid clouds escaping his penis dripping the darker
     folds of—
                                    Memory falls apart. A moth wing
     dropping scales powders the night-flowering bushes.

I don’t know how I lifted myself from that seductive blue,
     didn’t know the extent of my exhaustion—held
     breath, ears popping from the dive—and why I would,
     years later on the subway, cry when a stranger shouts
     at the flasher pleasuring himself on my behalf: Put that
     away! Put it away!


Ellen Kombiyil is the author of Histories of the Future Perfect (2015), and a micro chapbook Avalanche Tunnel (2016). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Nimrod, North American Review, Salt Hill, The Minnesota Review, and Ploughshares. She is a two-time winner of the Mary M. Fay Poetry Award from Hunter College, a recipient of an Academy of American Poets college prize, and was awarded the Nancy Dean Medieval Prize for an essay on the acoustic quality of Chaucer’s poetics. She is a founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship-model press publishing emerging poets from India and the diaspora. A graduate of the University of Chicago and Hunter’s M.F.A. program, she currently teaches creative writing at Hunter College.

  1. For years, I misheard this as revealed.