Poetry | 3 Poems by SJ Sindu | Issue 42, March 2023

Sun God

In the Mahabharata Karna the infant
is set afloat in a basket

illegitimate son of a princess
and the sun, raised by a merchant

his real story is one of self-destruction
I try to be an expert on this subject

Karna grows up to be an archer
the finest in the world

until his little half-brother
comes along to best him

Karna finally makes a friend
just his luck it’s the villain of our tale

and now he’s on the wrong side of a holy war
all the gods get involved

even his mother comes to him
the mother he yearns for

but now she’s come and revealed herself
only to ask him not to kill his half-brother

Karna is no Moses
and he will have no redemption

no hordes of followers
no one to pray over him

no, he will be a symbol
of how even the sun will abandon us

of how the wrong birth
is deserving of pity but not hero-hood

and how exactly did the sun
get a woman pregnant

is what I want to know
I’m told this is a bad question

I’m full of bad questions
like if I peel open my labia in the light

will I too have to send away a child
in a basket on the river

and what about masturbation
was the princess being punished

for digging inside herself
for her own deep pleasure

why can’t women step inside the temple
when they’re bleeding

I imagine little Karna sits at breakfast
while his adoptive mother stirs the sambar

and he is full of bad questions like
if you’re my real mother

then why do I feel like a god
and what I wanted to know at his age

was if one man’s freedom fighter
is another man’s terrorist

then are we on the wrong side of this war
but this a bad question


Pant Hoot

after Andrew Westoll’s The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary

yesterday a man
visited my class
taught us all
how to laugh
like chimpanzees
together we vocalized


invoking survivor chimps
in a sanctuary
outside Montreal
I wanted to know
how often they laugh

chimps freed from labs
cut open every week
shot up with tranquilizers
injected with HIV
housed in floating cages

Rachel the saved chimp
has episodes she chews
on herself bites
her own fingers bloody
only last week I laid in bed

screaming and hitting
myself in the face
until my partner spread
his body out over mine
like a gravity blanket

in middle school I poked
my wrists with needles
planting seeds or venting
steam surviving doesn’t always
mean you’re healed

when they’re not ramming
shoulders into cage bars
or spinning themselves
in endless stress circles
the chimps laugh



Girls from the Island

at Christmas with my family
we scan our faces through an app
to see what we’ll look like in ten,
twenty, forty years

I’ll look like my mother,
then like her mother,
sagging caramel face
slowly bleaching white
like driftwood
left too long on a beach

a bird’s foot
caught in its own nest

women in my family never die
if only from stubbornness

later during quarantine
my grandmother calls with ideas
she’s been talking to someone
who heard from someone
whose friend knows ayurvedic medicine

here are four ways
to keep disease at bay
no global pandemic
can penetrate the sheer will
of my grandmother’s wishingunder her direction
my pregnant cousin

strings beads of dried asafetida gum
into a necklace and wears it
to her pre-natal appointment

Grandmother makes all us cousins
promise to mix equal parts
red rice flour, white flour,
and turmeric with water
sculpt a diya lamp
the size of an open palm
fill with oil
place it in our doorways
and the virus will burn from our faith

she tells me, cut up an onion
and keep the pieces around the house
boil a fistful of dried red chili peppers
with tablets of camphor
until smoke fills me

the British ended matriarchy in Sri Lanka
but only on paper
even across the water in India
they tell young grooms
not to marry a girl from the island

my grandmother gave me
bad knees and panic attacks
when my grandfather had a stroke
my grandmother thought
she was having one too
her fingers turned icicle
her heart broke her chest open
the world held no air

my grandmother
thought she would die with him
this mindset is what I’ve inherited
along with her female-pattern baldness

but I’ve resisted whatever gene
makes her believe a flower garland
draped across a god’s picture in a gilded frame
will grow if you pray hard enough
and a Ganesh statue
in some temple across the world
is drinking the milk offered by devotees

this, my grandmother tells me
is true faith
this, her legacy

SJ Sindu is a Tamil diaspora author of two literary novels (Marriage of a Thousand Lies, which won the Publishing Triangle Edmund White Award; and Blue-Skinned Gods, which was an Indie Next Pick and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award), two hybrid chapbooks (I Once Met You But You Were Dead, which won the Split Lip Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest; and Dominant Genes, which won the Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook Contest), two forthcoming graphic novels (Shakti and Tall Water), and one forthcoming collection of short stories (The Goth House Experiment). Sindu holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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