For Fall Poetry Event: But Radha Wants More

Three poems for the Poetry Salon by Ashini Desai

But Radha Wants More

He is the boy everyone wants.
But SHE is the girl he dances with.
The girls circling her
tell her straight,
they wish they had her fate.
Of a thousand to be the one!
Does she not know that she has won?
So lucky.  Luck and Fate.
Is it not so great?
But she wonders,
is there not more?
Is this all life is for?

She looks over as he smiles,
everyone is entranced by his wiles.
He mesmerizes all with his flute,
poised with a feather, peacock blue.
There’s so much to be said about his charms,
but she melts when she’s in his arms. 

He flings his arm about her shoulder and winks
She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
He pulls her close,
increasing her hopes.
as her bangles chime and clink. 

His breath smells sweet and milky,
his laughter is so strong yet silky.
When he laughs unaware,
she sees moons and stars in the air.
The dark and the light.
But she wants to be more than his shadow
every night.

She wants to know her place in the world.
And to be asked about herself, as a girl.
She wants to answer her truth,
Tell the story of her life, her youth.
To reply unexpected,
and still be respected.
How long will she wait
until she can say it straight
that she’s more than a milkmaid,
a pretty girl as she’s been portrayed. 

He tosses garlands of jasmines around her neck,
she smells the blossoms just to check.
She traces this string of flowers, delicately at first,
feeling the softness, feeling the powers.
She plucks one blossom from the thread,
holds it to the sunlight above her head.
She admires the frail and the fragile
Beauty that is so dainty and agile. 

She crushes the bloom,
inhaling the perfume,
feeling so calm as she opens her palm
to let the white petals float to the ground,
though a few have already begun to brown.

Radha wants more.
She wants her heart to soar.
But she knows she cannot run
For this is the life she has won.
Maybe she should not mind,
after all their love is so entwined. 

Just as she wonders what to do,
there’s a tug at her wrist..
Then a sudden kiss..
Then she cannot resist.
For the music has begun
And it is time for fun. 

Suddenly everything is awhirl,
she’s spinning in colorful world!
Her heart is bright
and she laughs in delight!
Her hair is free, her skirts aflutter
and there’s no other for her,
but the boy who steals the butter. 

The Henna Artist

“Give me your palm,” Ruby said to the girl.
She touched her cool hand and felt a low charge.
She ran her own palm across it.
She flattened it until the lines become invisible,
brushing her canvas smooth.
She rubbed her hand across until she could feel the warmth. 

“Do you know what you want?” she asked.
“You decide,” was the response. 

Before she picked up the cone of henna paste,
Ruby closed her eyes to see
as she held the girl’s hand.
She had a vision of the girl standing in the center
Three men encircled her.
Ruby felt two were deceitful, but one could give her wings.
“Birds,” she announced. 

She took the cone and tested the stream on her own wrist.
The first man was a sparrow with its small sharp beak.
She painted vines that started from her wrist,
And curved to the to the top of her fingers.
She coaxed the sparrow to climb the vines
and led it out of her hand to fly away.

There was the second man.
The pungent smell of henna and oil
hit her nose as she leaned her face in.
There were foul intentions about him.
She felt his darkness. His blackness.
She painted a black crow, locked in a cage.
She drew vines with thorns to latch him in. 

“Palmists say the left hand represents your past,”
Ruby told the girl who gazed in wonder at those birds.
“Now, your future.”

In the center of the right palm, the henna seeped
from the cone in a steady flow and took the shape
of an elegant crane.

Ruby liked the long neck that could see a clear path
and take graceful strides towards honesty.
Its expansive wings would envelope the girl
in trust and soar into the world.
She created a path filled with lotus flowers to stay rooted,
and clouds to dream and fly.

She dipped a bit of cotton into lemon juice and sugar water.
She dabbed the designs and blew lightly on it.
“This is to ensure the color stays in your skin,
it will become part of you.”
The girl carefully rose,
beaming at the wonder and beauty in her hands.

Scent Memory

The white jasmines bloom at night in the summer,
just three precious blossoms at a time.
The plant was a gift, sitting in a terracotta pot on the edge
of the beige tub, since there’s moisture in the bathroom.
The slightly open window allows summer wind to freshen the space.

As I open the bathroom door, the aroma of fresh jasmine mixed with humid air
whisks me to Ahmedabad, India,
stirring memories of a childhood evening. 

We were family meeting for the first time,
making instant connections without the customary formalities
of introductions. They knew us already. 

Aunts, uncles and cousins were excited
to show off their world to the crisp American children.
We take a stroll in the warm June evening for ice cream.
The Queens of the Night are in bloom and we’re wrapped in a fragrant air.
We pass other bungalows in the neighborhood.
The bushes lining the large ‘compounds’
are sprinkled with delicate red and white flowers.

At the ice cream stand, we mill around and read the flavors
on the white board
under the stark fluorescent tube lights.

We’re confused, not finding comfort in our usual choices
like a mint chocolate chip.
Instead, we choose from flavors that leave aromatic traces in your mouth
when you say them out loud. 

Saffron pistachio

Rose and cardamom

Cashew and raisins

Dried figs and almonds

Tutti frutti

Mosquitoes and moths hover around the lights.
We hop around and wave them away.
When one bug nosedives into a cup,
uncles make corny jokes about “moth flavors”
and tease us about extra “mosquito” toppings.

As a lively group, our voices rise in the night,
as we kick up dust along the footpaths
returning to my grandparents’ house.
When a breeze does arrive, it breaks the heat for a moment.
Tropical trees rustle and the sky blue swing in the front yard rocks gently.
Later, I will scribble this adventure into my red travel journal,
complete with a sketch of the insects and the ice cream. 

I exhale those memories of the flowers and the night air.
I turn off the bathroom light and close the door,
leave that memory where it belongs
with the jasmine blossoms.


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