Poem of the week: Vandana Khanna, Evening Prayer

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I would really love to hear this as spoken word poetry

  1.

 

Two Gods: the one in the closet
and the one from school days
and both are not mine. I opened
the door on God at dusk and closed

 

him the rest of the day. He perched
on the ledge above my father’s shirts
and wool suits, a mandir in every Hindu
house, ours smelling of starch, surrounded

 

by ties and old suitcases. I was the ghost
at school, sat on the pew and watched
as other girls held God under their tongues.
My lips remember the prayer my parents

 

taught me those evenings with their bedroom
closet open—Ganesh carved in metal, Krishna
blue in a frame. I don’t remember the translation,
never sure I really knew it. I got mixed up sometimes,

 

said a section of the “Our Father” in the middle
of the arti, ending in Amen when I meant Krishna,
Krishna, not sure when to kneel and when to touch
someone’s feet with my hands.

 

                                              2.

 

My name means it all—holiness, God, evenings
praying to a closet. My mother says before I
was born, I was an ache in the back of her throat,
wind rushing past her ear, that my father prayed

 

every evening, closet door open, for a daughter.
And so I am evening prayer, sunset and mantra.
At school, I longed for a name that was smooth
on the backs of my teeth, no trick getting it out.

 

Easy on the mouth, a Lisa or a Julie—brown hair
and freckles, not skin the color of settling dusk,
a name you could press your lips to, press lips
against, American names of backyard swings, meat loaf

 

in the oven, not of one-room apartments
overlooking parking lots, the smell of curry
in a pot, food that lined the hallways with its
memory for days. I watched the hair on my legs

 

grow dark and hated it. I longed to disappear,
to turn the red that sheened on the other girls
in school, rejecting the sun, burning with spite.
In the mirror, I called myself another, practicing—

 

the names, the prayers, fitting words into my mouth
as if they belonged: Ram, Ram and alleluia, bhagvan,
God the Father, thy will be done Om shanti, shanti, shanti.
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