Community Panchayal directs rape accused to marry victim
– Press Trust of India, November 2004
She can remove her bra and panties
beneath the tent of a salwar kameez without
an inch of skin made visible.
She lowers her gaze in the presence of strangers
reads feet like palms; cracked, pampered,
shod or barefoot.
She wants a husband whose feet
are not split at the heel like her father’s
or caked in mud like her brother’s.
1 Month Later
Her husband-to-be has feet smooth
as de-scaled fish. The astrologer says
her first born will be ‘famous’.
I think they mishear ‘miracle’.
Her family hears about a girl
who hanged herself by a dupatta and hides
all of hers. She drinks gallons of milk,
the way the Shiva Lingum is cleansed
at temples. Her bridal sari is red.
The priest blesses them with a coconut, scatters
rice for fertility – he wasn’t to know I am hiding
in the darkness inside her. She thinks his feet
are like newspaper parcels of fish,
faces sticking out, nails like flat fish eyes.
He takes her home with him that night.
His fish-feet mount hers.
I’m only a few cells along, but I know
something isn’t right
from the way she stares at his feet.
She leaves all his shoes in the sun
to rid them of their fish and cabbage smell.
She eats a bag of figs, then pistachios,
then walnuts and retches with such force
that I’m afraid
of being wrenched free of her.
Her mother comes to take her back home.
It doesn’t last long because all day her father
mutters like a prayer –
what will the neighbours think.
Before she leaves she sneaks her old dupattas
from the linen cupboard in with her clothes.
No one sees what she takes away with her.
I swim in pumice when she scrubs her feet.
In this house, the smell of fish doesn’t go away.
Big Fish Little Fish she murmurs to herself as
She turns sixteen today.
I don’t hear voices. Maybe he is mute.
I have not seen his face, but I would
know his feet anywhere.
I give myself vertigo looking at feet
upside down. I sleep curled
the way she does. We are like seahorses.
I give myself vertigo again doing hand-stands
to see the sky
when she cries outside in mangosteen-coloured nights,
we hang like bats from the sky.
His little toes are always turned sideways
for the weight of him.
The big toe has wiry whiskers on the knuckle,
The sound of fish breathing. Wet sound of fish kissing.
3 Days Before My Birth
My mother can’t sleep because I space-walk
inside her. She says:
The stench is unbearable and gets out of bed
(he is asleep).
She returns with the axe set apart
for cracking coconuts.
I must bury the dead fish she says,
looking at his feet.
I must bury the dead fish.
I am almost a miracle.
Salwar kameez – traditional dress of loose trousers and tunic Dupatta – a long scarf which is a symbol of modesty Shiva Lingum – a phallic representation of the major Hindu deity Shiva