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imaginary maps | Poems | Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt


Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt

Sunlight falling
as a raindrop
on his canvas
curving gentlly
over his birth mark
a tiny dark mole
reminding us
of our ancestors.

Ancient coins, old prayers,
and secrets we discovered
while our mother’s
turned their backs
catching the last rays of the sun.

The musky damp smell
of half dried sarees
with Bengal block prints
and cotton petticoats
washed with blue Rin.

Like fire, memory glows.

where sat the fragile bones

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt

more happened that summer
than just walking past 
lonely benches 
staring at children.
they broke those glasses
old reflections, stale love
sketched on paper.
brown faces 
scared invisible lines
imaginary maps
not knowing 
who they are.

under a stripped umbrella
they stood in their batik blouses
hiding from the sun
that exposed their skin
made them brown,
maybe yellow
until everyone knew 
they were stained
like glass.

that summer, they wondered
where should they die
if they didn't remember
how to spell their names
the way their grandmother’s taught 
when they left with red ribbons 
tied at the end 
of each braid.

this is what happens

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt

when you come from
a source that has
no oceans, no rocks,
no monsoons, no
jet black crows;

when you come from
a womb that has
no excessive flesh,
big round eyes, 
black soil sitting
underneath cracked nails;

no memory, no dripping
blood, no pulse

when you come from
a soul that has
no memory, no dripping 
blood, no pulse
no heated palms 
sweaty foreheads;

when you come from
ancestors that have
all become ghosts
frozen looks pelting
through oil paintings 
that have lost their lust 
and all that remains
are a thick lining of 
cobwebs         a dark shawl;

that's when you 
struggle to find out
how to live, where you fit
how to love, how to laugh
in case everything spills
and sticks like oil on the floor

and you watch your
body shrinking
beneath your terracotta flesh
and flirting with rain
becomes a luxury to you.

Published in Saranac Review, Fall 2007

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt was born in Kolkata, India and left India when she was 19. For the last 27 years she has lived in the United States but continues to search for a place called “home.” Some days she is comfortable with a permanent place called displacement as her new home as it has been for billions of migrants in this world. Dutt-Ballerstadt is also a professor in the Department of English at Linfield College in Oregon. She has published poetry and other creative works in literary journals like Jouvert, Asian American Renaissance, Saranac Review and others. In 2010 she published a mixed genre book that dances between creative non-fiction, literary theory, poetry and politics titled, The Postcolonial Citizen: The Intellectual Migrant. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her partner Ralph and nine-year old son Ronan.

See more: A geography of memories | Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt | The BeZine April 20017: Celebrating Poetry Month


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