i have fallen in love, enough,
so that i do not parade with my lips
orange and gleaming, so that i do not
poof out my breasts, cheeks full of air.
the dark bits of me lay cleavaged
in contagion, exposed only to shame
and quick dirty peekaboos.
i do not climb on top of my friends,
overtly stroking their blonde fur
(maybe if we were blonde we could be furry)
they called us immodest in any love at all
until there we were, another sea, trite
jeans and blowout manners, only
caricatures of socialites, only delhi
and mumbai stories, so immoral
in bollywood hypocrisy.
i never had friends so blasphemous;
my friends straightened their wild, curly hair
and ironed their clothes themselves.
their straightened hair,
blonded but not tanned,
tried to soften their Indian skin.
you and your friends, your breasts are
solid marzipan, your hair is steel to begin with;
you reclaim your ugliness in forthright
blogs and quirky newsletters while i
learn to mannequin my heart, as i
keep trying to rub the Indian skin off my feet.
you must use johnson’s baby moisturizing lotion
and your mother must comb your hair every day,
massaging the oil in, yanking the bristles through.
at least you’ll be smooth and poised;
later you can graduate,
stop using your home remedies
you’ll have a new school to conquer,
some academic treatise made parchment
qualified: extreme to extreme, oil to conditioner.
it’s a little hard to get rid of skin,
but you can almost pass.
my toenails emerge from grey-white new moons
I hack at my cuticles: better blood than grey.
your dirt washes off easily.
all you need is a bright purple loofah.
we have centuries of dusty wind to rub off.
the lint at the corners of our eyes is an insult.
we should never paint our fingernails red,
that wonderful echo of railway station grime.
can’t be the beggars we pass on the street every day.
you should study really hard and
become a doctor or an engineer.
lucky you, carrying on your father’s business;
you’re already in the clean white world.
you get to have the AC on in the car, and
play with your iPhone as your driver
struggles to get out of the punjagutta traffic jam.
go to fabindia. go ethnic.
but laugh off the ready markets
we used to go to when we were little.
don’t wear bright, gaudy yellow gold
unless you’re mountain-pale:
but rub the yellow out.
don’t look like some prostitute.
look like a slut instead.
we’re just backward right now,
you know, about sex and all that stuff.
i’m sure we’ll feel compelled to use tampons someday,
just like we had to lengthen our eyelashes,
put up flashy billboard advertisements
to rival those endless urban expanses of america,
just like laughing and drinking
sula in antique wine glasses.
i do not parade, because our touches
were secretly normal,
just like anything that ever happened.
we were expected to walk with our arms around each other.
sometimes we undressed in front of each other.
sometimes we didn’t.
we were allowed to tease each other for it
(haw ji ki paw ji!)
we climbed up on stools to spy on each other
through the bathroom window.
we ignored the dust until it was too late.