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Pujita Verma


“Antyesti” refers to the Hindu funeral rites for the dead, when a body is cremated and the ashes are dispersed in the Ganges river—where it is also often customary to bathe an infant as a rite of passage.

I do not pretend to be housing pearls
            under skin of dirt,
            no seeds to meet water
            under layers of farmland.

on this side of the Atlantic
            protest is 7 o'clock news:
            white noise to douse

Nani’s English takes flight
            before two hands press together.
            hello is traded for goodbye
            as if a wifi’s hesitation

could hang. as if she is a match
            that will light her daughter’s
            passage back,
            ghar aa jao (come home).

all the women put themselves on mute
            to hear my poems. see
            eyes fill Ganga
            like ash in macrocosm.

even if they cannot disperse
            a             word
            or my mother tongue
            stifles on their sacrifice.

this elegance is tribute. my lineage
            is burdened with drowning
            women. from the 1,500-mile stretch
            between Northern India

and the Bay of Bengal. our holiest river
            is swollen with bodies.
            girls they could not marry,
            could not carry their elements

to origin. I will tell you a story
            in which they are at rest,
            now carried by remnants
            and rocked to sleep.

I have tasted their soot
            and struggle. we were birthed
            from universal womb,
            have bathed together

from each samskara,
            (my mother once brought
            me to the riverbeds, long before
            I could walk)

to the collective, unbecoming act
            of cleansing from his fingerprints,
            how pure we are,
            and no one is looking.

believe me. there is nothing beautiful to make of
            the burning,
            of wearing white
            to the pyre

of an aisle unrolled by flame, of a vow
            afloat a bitten tongue, of a body
            reclaimed entirely in backstroke.
            I will swim home

in any language I can cauterize
            aapki kahaani / kaee kaanon tak/ jayegi
            (your story will reach many ears)
            until we meet again.
Pujita Verma is an Indo-Canadian poet and illustrator. Her work embraces themes of resilience and silence, culture and (dis)connection, memory, and matters of the heart. Pujita was Mississauga’s Youth Poet Laureate and a Poetry in Voice National Finalist.
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