Poetry London Prize 2020: 3rd PRIZE

S. Niroshini

Letters to Sunny Leone

i.


Dear Sunny,

I want to explain to you how I lost track of my body.
Or rather, how I lost the sense that I had a body at all, a self
that was located in a flesh which I could claim as my own. It 
happened one February morning when I was a girl. All my memories
of my earlier years of encountering my own anatomy — little brown
knees which grazed the underside of school desks, hands that held
chubby peaches in the summer and toes which flicked the bottom
of rock-pools— rang false to me. To have been some trick of the light. 
And because I was still a child, when it first happened, it was an
experience I was not able to comprehend. Naturally, I therefore
assumed, it was some failing on my part to have lost track of that one
thing that kept me tethered to this world, to everything which I had
held dear. Where did you pick up your body when you misplaced it
Sunny? To whom did you turn? I think now of my loss and its
longings, and how my pelvis is a phantom that talks to me
in my dreams. It chatters away grinding, grinding.

ii.


Dear Sunny,

There is something about the family home and the bedroom
which I am trying to put into words. How I have no single memory
of it, yet it occupies the entire geography of my childhood. Stuffed
animals lined the walls of my bedroom in Blacktown, an area in the far-
eastern suburbs, to where my family migrated when I was five
during the war. Winnie the Pooh and Speedy Gonzalez soft toys
watched me with great interest every night. We had no money and my
mother brought them from a charity store, submerging them into
boiling water in a large cooking pan to rid them of germs. I remember
too a polka-dot duvet and blanket, yet it is impossible to describe it as a
site of innocence. There are things which the conscious part of my
brain refuses to acknowledge but my body cannot forget. There are
signs. Of things that came to me too soon without my agreement.
Psychologists are prone to say things like “feelings are not facts”. I want
to understand though Sunny, what is a non-feeling about a non-fact?

iii.


Dear Sunny,

Why is it that all girls want to hunt, want to wrap their limbs
around other girls, extend their tentacles from their raw centre?
Childhood seems to me to have been full of erotic experiences,
discovering a dildo in my aunt’s house, the curiosity of a playboy
magazine or coming across hard porn on an open browser. In
the girls’ bathroom of my primary school, a pack of senior girls
approached me lustfully. Later they would write a letter of apology
forced by the school. So sorry. I showed it to my mother, who ripped it
up and never mentioned it again. Even in this, I felt there was some
culpability on my part. I wish I had kept that letter as it may be the
only time any of us will ever receive an apology for what is done to us.
Sunny, the word for erotic sentiment in my homeland is sringara.
That is a joke - I have no homeland. But what is the word for erotic
feeling in childhood? I want to pin it down, so that I can turn
to it when someone looks at me and says that I’m not behaving
like a good girl, so I can say that there are no good girls.