incorrigible disturbers of the peace*
Back then we cut our own heads
out of Polaroid pictures
and glued them to Popsicle sticks.
Made sweaters stamped with snowflakes,
and blue paper that fell apart
under our oily fingers.
We were given the alphabet
block-lettered on white paper,
and told to fill it in.
With any color we liked,
as long as it stayed inside the lines.
Later we cut away the extra paper,
threw our mistakes in the recycling
and threaded twenty-six letters
onto long strands of yarn.
All these crafts to occupy
our tiny hands, to keep them
from poking into anything
we might disturb.
Years later I had to remember,
teach my hands again to pry
where they were told they didn’t belong.
* “… all societies have battled with the incorrigible disturber of the peace — the artist.”
-- James Baldwin, “The Creative Process”
for my parents
Phone service cuts out
as soon as you enter the tunnel
connecting Detroit to Windsor,
unless you want to pay extra.
I tear into a huge bhatura
in Berkeley, like we’ve done
in Paris, Delhi, and Toronto.
Dozens of bhaturas
like a bouquet of balloons.
I didn’t tell you that last night
I spent thirteen hours in bed.
Or that I haven’t been eating
on the weekends.
What temperature is it there right now?
You barrel across Ontario
in your new black SUV,
Bluetooth siphoning the playlists
I’ve uploaded to your phones.
I gently burn eggplant curry
in my apartment, and
it sets off the smoke alarm.
Pillaiyar and Murugan were challenged
to race around the world, to circle it
three times. The prize was a holy mango.
Murugan took off at top speed on his peacock,
but Pillaiyar walked three times
around his parents.
You are my world.
Surabhi Balachander grew up in Indiana and will graduate from Stanford University in June with a B. A. in English and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. This is her first publication.