“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
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
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.