New Delhi, 1967
We kept war in the kitchen.
A set of ten bone china plates, now eight.
As if a perfumed guest stole her riches . . .
The next day she wanted to leave at noon.
I said, be back by four, I'm paying you.
She sat by the door,
she put out her hand,
her knuckles knocked against mine,
hard deliberate knuckles. I gave her cash.
Off to watch movies, off to smoke ganja.
She came back late and high as if my fear asked for it.
I called her junglee.
Everything went off late --
dinner, the children getting into bed;
but the guests understood:
they had servants too.
She stuck diaper pins in my children.
I cursed her openly. Who shouted?
Or I cursed her silently and went my way.
She stole bangles my husband's mother bought,
bangles a hundred years old. But she wore frayed jewelry
hawked on the street. She was like a rock that nicked
furniture in corners you'd think only a rat could go.
Why didn't I dismiss her?
I don't know.
She got old as I got old.
I could see her sharp shoulder bones
tighten, her knuckled skull.
I had to look at her. It had to wound me.
Listen, said my mother. Yes mother, I listened, crouched in my head.
Looking over the flowered verandah she said:
Who are you to think you are beautiful?
What have you got to show?
Go sit on your rag.
All my life I tended to looks,
they betrayed me. I bore you.
I am wretched. Be my mother. Be my maid.