University of Texas at Austin Poetry Prize II, 2016
by Arati Warrier
City I have never been in. Swallower of swords and good women. City that birthed Bollywood and held my lover like a crown jewel for 11 years. Oh the majesty of a city I can only dream about. Of a city connected to me only through my kin’s kin and earlier generations. Until you arrive in my hands as wisps of smoke. I let my lover paint pictures of you. You are perfect and bustling and unclear to me in each one. I imagine myself walking through your streets and falling apart, becoming your dirt and dust. I have heard of your shortcomings. I aspire to be broken with you. Oh the majesty of a dream lined with nostalgia. How I become myself every night. Reborn in your city walls. Reverse the diaspora. Re-engineer my tongue. Only in sleep could it be this simple. Only in sleep can grand cities rise, glint in the sun, and remember what they were before the work of empire grinded their bones into the grit now trapped in the air. Oh the majesty of a nostalgia I don’t even own visiting me as a city I don’t even know. Oh city.
One day I will touch you and I will know I am real.