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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 29, 2016.
About this Poem 

“Richmond Hill is a vibrant community of Indo-Caribbean people who make up a large immigrant group in New York City. I have lived and worked in the area multiple times in my life and consider it one of my homes. This poem is in praise of its syncretisms, its people, and its poets like Sundar Popo who wrote the chutney music classic Kaise Bani.
—Rajiv Mohabir

Ode to Richmond Hill

then the drunk teen scatters
a cascade of copper on cement,
the old Uncle yells, eyes silver
eyes in disbelief, Pick up yuh
paisa, na man! no worry
on this slate day youths dem
speak no Hindi to know paisa
means money, a taxi speeds 
by blaring chutney remix
Kaise Bani and you remember
your Aji dropping her rum
at Aunty’s party to jump up
and your mother’s awkward Hindi—
you bit your fingers with each roti
she rolled, each mantra she taught you
floods your throat in front
of this puja shop on 127th and Liberty
front strung with plastic marigolds,
a replica strung of polypropylene
like you are now and not like
long time when Par-Aja came
from India, you are a forgery
that will one day burn
not on a pyre but in an incinerator,
not on a riverbank, but
in a crematorium, your prayers
in Hindi accented in English alveolars
neither devas nor prophets
recognize as supplication
but on Liberty Avenue
in the waft of a spliff drag,
and sandalwood a coolie Uncle
in a kurta mouths Marley
as you walk by
you start to sing praise
to Queens where you are
Chandra’s son or so
and so’s buddy ke pickni,
where you wipe oil from doubles
on your jeans and cuss up
the car that backs into stacked crates
of strawberries, to where you
return after three years
and Richmond Hill opens
its coolie arms pulls you close
and in your ear whispers
dis time na long time.

Copyright © 2016 by Rajiv Mohabir. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 29, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Rajiv Mohabir. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 29, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Rajiv Mohabir

Rajiv Mohabir

Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press, 2017), winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize.

by this poet

poem
After a century, humpbacks migrate
again to Queens. They left
due to sewage and white froth

banking the shores from polychlorinated-
biphenyl-dumping into the Hudson
and winnowing menhaden schools.

But now grace, dark bodies of song
return. Go to the seaside—

Hold your breath. Submerge.
A black fluke
2