Urvi Kumbhat shares a poem on return without nostalgia, desires playing truant, and living in the ellipses between countries
Part of The Stakes of Naming, a series that asks an array of writers and artists what they need to say to live.
Spring with such intensity I forget about death. Hot pain lifts
from my infected piercing and tentacles my face. Overnight the sun
baked me until I hardened—now the rain. I wait obsessively
for it to jolt me to clarity. My friend and I leave the place of our birth
and dance around the same questions. Return as ethical injunction—
can return be disentanglement? Return without nostalgia. Return as debt
owed. Not in my name, the protestors chanted at home, when in fact
our names were everywhere, impossible to scrub clean. In India you learn
to read names like road signs. Go here, proceed with caution, stay out,
road closed. Proper noun belonging. I transition without grace between names,
conversations, flirtations, national allegiances, the usual institutions. My Hinge
matches seem better read than me. I don’t meet up with any of them. I have
a hard time believing what anyone says, with you gone, beloved. A hard time
believing in a nation-state, though this is how we live—scattered, relieved when
the border recedes. Monogamy, citizenship. Different acts of faith, severed,
though to love you was nothing like loving a country. You and I were soft foam,
like the eggs we whipped into white peaks, capable of transformation. Now I
stretch and strain the ligament between self and all the irrevocable things I say
to others. Each word a confession, an exposure, a spore, but never a riot.
Only a riot is a riot. I salt the hole in my ear, draw out what’s rotten. If everything
could be so simple. At the brewery we discuss how we experience visual art,
texture and paint-stroke, narrative lack and animal immediacy. What I mean to say
is that in front of the painting I hope for something unspeakable. Knowable but
without name. For example, my friend’s daughter shows me a pale white butterfly,
preserved perfectly in a spider’s web behind the coffee shop window. Like a gallery—
I could return tomorrow, call the dead thing beautiful. I’ll put that in my poem,
I tell her. No, she says, it’s already a poem. She’s right. So little belongs to me.
I throw my earring away with its patina of ooze. My body plays truant from
my desires, my desires play truant altogether. You sacrifice your name like it was
nothing at all, leave it at the protest. I want to be braver. Tired of bookending myself
by what I consume: pepper pockmarks my counter, iced matcha sweats through
plastic lips, a free supplement called “Flatter Me” arrives in the mail unbidden.
Everything an intimation of imitation. When the magnolia blooms I’ll start gathering
my belongings. I’ll devote myself to the right things. Like justice, like love.
I mean that sincerely—I could love like this. I could love anyone, even you,
with the picture of a dog in your lap, for a season. I could return, for now.
I could live in the ellipses between countries: typing, typing, someone at last writing to me.
Urvi Kumbhat is a writer from Calcutta. She is currently a PhD student in English at Princeton University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Protean Magazine, Lit Hub, The Margins, and elsewhere.
Banner illustration: Jocelin Kee.
- Poetry & Fiction
- Fri, 13 Oct 2023