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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Parang La

 

The sky split above us in a dazed yaw

or maybe it was my body pitching

 

sheering from rubble or the unsteady heave

of stream, dither of air above bare snow

 

pox of black spots beneath bitter lashes. 

It was the horse skeleton, half buried in ice

 

a barely visible dupe, sad distraction

from the trap of huge crevices below

 

a mirror of white, whipcracks that knock me

to my knees as sun magnifies and ice warms. 

 

It is a treachery of scalded lungs and footing

and lukewarm wanting. At the top I don’t cry

 

from joy, something unbearable in my survival

and my strength.

 

—Corinne Elysse Adams

 

 

 

Rajasthan

 

There is a trick to opening watermelon with your hands:

A scorpion sting with the elbow punctures

the rind.  A fist to beat a ring around the fruit

until it splits open and falls in halves in your hands.

 

The inside is pink ice—no candy-apple red that stains mouths

and clothes, but a barely blushing white, slick seeds

of pale brown.  We scoop the snowy melon in handfuls,

slurping it against noon sun and whirling dust.

 

Millet and sorghum stalks grow high and green amidst

burnt sand dunes, dotted with camels engaged in thoughtful

chewing under the kejali trees.  In the shade of cement, spitting melon

seeds onto a cool cowdung floor, a woman draped in red,

 

her sheer dupatta barely a suggestion hiding her face,

tells us the tale of a princess who hears a poor limbless beggar

sing a raga for the morning, and by the song’s beauty is moved

to love. The watermelon juice dribbles all over our faces

 

as we tip up the bowls and drink the desert-water

laced with sugar and tangy fruit-flesh, leaving dust tracks

down our arms and sunburned cheeks, and in the threads of story

the beggar is actually a raja who fell on seven years of bad luck,

 

and the curse broken with the final notes of the rāg and the princess,

who had sworn to marry him even as a beggar, becomes his rani.

Later, in the evening, the shuttle clacks on the loom, zooming under

warp threads and making zigzag patterns in grey wool

 

as father and son work the treadles and keep a tight woof.

A storyteller sings verses between spoken words,

sherbet-orange kharbuza fruit is sliced into long boats

dusted with salt and masala, sour and slippery.

 

In the courtyard, a bicycle wheel charka is still, clung with fibers

from an earlier spinning; the women are preparing dal and bajra rotis,

sharing smiles in flashes of white teeth against dark skin,

flutter of vermillion. Sung lines of stories take shape

 

in the emerging stars, great swathes of time and history laid out

for us, reflections of half-remembered myths glittering in our eyes

as we lie on woven beds in the desert night, drifting in lullabies of peacocks

and songs we must have once known the words to.

 

rag: raga, type of song

raja:king

rani: queen

charka: spinning wheel

bajra roti: millet flatbread

 

                     —Corinne Elysse Adams 

 

 

 

 

The Story of an Apple Pie in Bombay

 

For the crust, two and a half cups

of wheat flour: golden stalks grown

by the people of Bihar who chose to stay,

left behind while their uncles and cousins

drift to Ladakh to build mountain roads.

 

Enough butter to make a coarse meal:

the dairy down the road will give you

tart lassi to drink while you wait for the butter

to be wrapped, milk churned amidst the moans

and dust and pink udders of bony cows.

 

The butter must be kept in the freezer

before mixed with the flour.  Even in November

the Bombay air will warm and soften

a fresh pat within minutes.  Pretend

the leaves are falling, the air smells of smoke

and earth instead of incense and exhaust.

 

Beginning is my favourite part—

before a thing becomes complicated,

before the need for utensils and grace.

 

Sweat saunters down the back of the neck,

prickling lips, sea-salt into the mix—

think of Gandhi, long march and sore feet

for freedom.

 

Long march, blistered feet cross

abandoned salt flats of Ladakh,

for no reason other than to feel alive. 

Emptiness so endless it confines the mind.

 

I love crumbling the cold butter

into grainy flour, sprinkle of brown sugar.

M secret— sneaking tastes of this stage,

how I enjoy it more than the pie.

 

For the filling, sliced apples from the trees

dripping misty rain in Manali. The relief of orchards

and pine forests, wooden cabins after the desert

of rock and mud homes of Ladakh. Best if stolen

from drooping branches in morning drizzle;

I hid them in my skirt to fill my bag.

 

Stew the apples slightly with raw sugar—

Karnataka sugarcane in hard brown fragments.

Slit the vanilla pod, brought to Bombay market

from Coorg, tight, wrinkled black skin parting

under sharp knife. Scrape oily seeds into

heating compote.  Resist the allure of orchid

scented oil— no finger-licking yet.

 

The cinnamon my lover brought me from Shallong, rough,

jagged bark that looks nothing like the elegant double furls

found in shops.  Grate it on a long, rough metal plane,

powder into pot. Unwrap a nutmeg pod from a bit

of soft Indian newspaper, politics from many months ago,

shavings curling and uncurling in syrupy juice.

 

Cockroach chase in the tiny kitchen, oven boiling

everything foolish enough to be in the room now,

and I am pretending hard, watching the pie bake bubbling

and brown, like the edges of perfect parathas.

 

Consume it singlehandedly in an over-airconditioned bedroom,

right hand holds the utensil, mixture of two habits,

the wonder of this thing made all of India that somehow belongs

to a shivery, smoky autumn far away.

 

                                                            —Corinne Elysse Adams