Girl gets on plane. This is unusual
because her tribe doesn’t fly. Why should they?
The world is simple, faith is colluvial.
This is the girl’s first time. People said
one day she will fly, but there’s no rush.
The girl isn’t nervous — just looking ahead.
Her tribe — very old, old, middle-aged, plus
young, and ridiculously young — blink and
wipe away tears and snot, discuss, suss
unfamiliar grief. Some of the band
— maddened by rashes and mosquitoes —
Shriek in torment. Given to understand
they’re there since they have no right to veto
eternal values. Family matters.
Some do feel a peculiar heartache though.
Unspeakable. They aren’t used to chatter
about feelings — Hallmark nonsense. Crying
in public is frowned on, no matter
why. A stiff upper lip is just a thing
and not a sign of character. Best treat
breakdowns with silent extra servings
of food. Cucumber raita (in this heat)
is better than a feeling. The airport
— it’s the third world, hot, loud, dirty, surfeit
with stench grabbing sad humans as its sport —
stinks of mingled feelings, food, anxiety,
and shit. Amidst these sensory aborts,
one woman’s crying can’t be heard. However,
the soon-to-be flying girl sees her break.
Ah yes, the prelude to leaving forever.
Everyone knows. Powerless mother’s heartache.
The girl wishes the crying woman would
stop. Now she can’t change where life will next take
her. Plane’s going to America. Good.
America, they say, is a real place.
Also a fairytale; that’s understood.
The girl further knows that it is home base
to bars, rock music, McDonald’s, Koolaid,
the Mafia, and the real rat race.
The crying woman has heard about AIDS
And packed dinnerware in the girl’s luggage.
She’s heard you can get AIDS from plates
and silverware. A steel plate in stowage,
the girl takes the plane to America.
And from now on five times every decade
the once-girl changes to dollars takas,
but lingers less because of security.
The world’s become bigger, full of attackers.
Safety sandwiches familiarity,
if feelings don’t. Security matters.
The world turns, continents crave polarity.
Also, air-conditioning matters.
Before, it didn’t matter this much.
It’s been too long, the girl-woman discovers.
The tribe has dwindled, the sobs are a touch
abstract expressionist. Years turn to decades.
America’s still the greatest, pretty much,
inspiring worldwide love and hatred.
Only the greatest countries can be both
at the same time. The woman’s most sacred
struggles have been with loves and taking oaths
— this country and that, this family and
that, these friends and those — and such scroogey troths
always leaving her torn between feelings
for the crying woman who years ago
went missing, but also air-conditioning.
Then one year she’s at the airport to go
back to America which has lately been
made great again. The shrunk tribe can now no
longer come past the security screens.
She looks back and tastes her salty tears,
But traitor cells involuntarily scream
praise for cold air. The once pioneer
girl-now-woman waves at imagined tribe.
Then the lift up to where dark clouds swirl.
Back to that country where no one takes bribes,
where she once arrived trusting in her lot
and a few dollars — as she never tires
of telling her children who’d rather not
hear it — thinking of that mother now and
then (that woman who used to cry a lot),
whom she’d someday bring to this promised land
to live and die well, thanks so much to that
great American healthcare, love’s last stand.
During an active academic career and while single-parenting, Nandini Bhattacharya has been writing fiction — mainly short stories and novels — for several years. She has received residencies and fellowships at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, the Sarah Lawrence Summer Writers’ Workshop, the Southampton Summer Writers’ Conference, The Voices of Our Nation Arts Writing Workshop, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop in Paris, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Centrum Artists and Craigardan Writers Residencies (forthcoming). She has published seven short stories and her novel titled Love’s Garden is forthcoming in October 2020; a second novel manuscript titled Homeland Blues is under consideration. She was chosen as the first runner-up for the Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction contest (2017-2018), as a finalist for the Fourth River Folio Contest for Prose Prize (2018), long-listed for the Disquiet International Literary Prize (2019), and a finalist for the Reynolds Price Women’s International Literary Award (2019). Born and brought up in an India remembered in the prose poem, she now lives in the USA outside of Houston, TX.