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Love Poem for a Wife – A. K. Ramanujan

Really what keeps us apart
at the end of years is unshared
childhood. You cannot, for instance,
meet my father. He is some years
dead. Neither can I meet yours:
he has lately lost his temper
and mellowed.

In the transverse midnight gossip
of cousins’ reunions among
brandy fumes, cashews and the Absences
of grandparents, you suddenly grow
nostalgic for my past and I
envy you your village dog-ride
and the mythology

of the sever crazy aunts.
You begin to recognize me
as I pass from ghost to real
and back again in the albums
of family rumours, in brothers’
anecdotes of how noisily
father bathed,

slapping soap on his back;
find sources for a familiar
sheep-mouth look in a sepia wedding
picture of father in a turban,
mother standing on her bare
splayed feet, silver rings
on her second toes;

and reduce the entire career
of my recent unique self
to the compulsion of some high
sentence in His Smilesian diary.
And your father, gone irrevocably
in age, after changing every day
your youth’s evenings,

he will acknowledge the wickedness
of no reminiscence: no, not
the burning end of the cigarette
in the balcony, pacing
to and fro as you came to the gate
late, after what you thought
was an innocent

date with a nice Muslim friend
who only hinted at touches.
Only two weeks ago, in Chicago,
you and your brother James started
one of you old drag-out fights
about where the bathroom was
in the backyard,

north or south of the well
next to the jackfruit tree
in your father’s father’s house
in Alleppey. Sister-in-law
and I were blank cut-outs
fitted to our respective
slots in a room

really nowhere as the two of you
got down to the floor t draw
blueprints of a house from memory
of everything, from newspapers
to the backs of envelopes
and road-maps of the United States
that happened

to flap in the other room
in a midnight wind: you wagered heirlooms
and husband’s earnings on what the Uncle in Kuwait
would say about the Bathroom
and the Well, and the dying,
by now dead,

tree next to it. Probably
only the Egyptians had it right:
their kings had sisters for queens
to continue the incests
of childhood into marriage.
or we should do as well-meaning
Hindus did.

betroth us before birth
forestalling separate horoscopes
and mother’s first periods,
and wed us in the oral cradle
and carry marriage back into
the namelessness of childhoods

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