History of my Suitcase
I drag the large green suitcase from its corner,
clouds of cobwebs and dust rising from it making me sneeze.
Peering into its dark emptiness, I hear Amma’s quiet words,
smell incense and sandalwood, sweat and musk,
invoking unknown streets snaking behind highways
and store fronts blazing their neon marquees.
It will once again make its way across the Atlantic,
over deserts and warring nations to lush paddy fields,
orchards and spires, before making its way back
to its home, inviting a dense skein of cobwebs
to veil lacerations, broken zippers and locks, but still
holding in place silks, fading photos, frayed letters.
How many more bruises will it bear before it’s trashed
in some landfill, then journey on a garbage barge
from a pier in New York to a tiny Chinese village
where it will clog up some stream thick with chemicals?
The first time I left home, Amma packed it with spices,
lentils, fritters and pan-fried bread so I would not starve.
When I ate between classes and library study sessions,
I tasted her fingers, all five, feeding rice into my mouth.
When I was homesick, I buried my head into my suitcase
To breathe in nostalgia peppered with burned grit.
Now everything is windswept. My coast is eroding.
They say our island will not exist in a few years.
Pramila Venkateswaran, poet laureate of Suffolk County and co-director of Matwaala: South Asian Diaspora Poetry Festival, is the author of Thirtha, Behind Dark Waters, Draw Me Inmost, Trace, Thirteen Days to Let Go, Slow Ripening, The Singer of Alleppey. An award winning poet, she teaches English and Women’s Studies at SUNY Nassau.