Poetry | ‘Export Quality’ by Rashi Rohatgi | Issue 41 (May, 2021)

“a quivering sensation in the right arm was supposed to prognosticate union with a beautiful woman” – monier monier williams

Menaka, my mother, was parentless but beautiful. They pulled at their hair,
in dreams, pretending it was someone else’s: hers. They didn’t have to ask –
she appeared in the churning. Full grown and looking – daddy? – but no takers, risk
too great. Better to wait and see if anything was wrong with a girl stuck in heaven with
too many uncles.

++++++++++++++ They think they are so different here: wise and unused
to luxury. Fresh air is free and the costs of their presence invisible and when Kanva
needs to feel beloved by smarter faces he leaves me amongst them and their staid
advice. The big joke? He says he can’t remember his past, nada until he got to the woods
and looked to the stars and understood himself to be nothing more or less than.

The uncles love my Real Dad: they chant his mantra as though it will bring them literally
into the light. He knows what there is to know. Still, he is starving himself in case there is
more he might need to know, later, and so is too busy for visitors. Durvasas asked. What a
fanboy. Fan Uncle.

++++++++++++++You can’t live here unless you are a million years old. Forty, at the very
least: sons educated, daughters married off, wives tired. But no one says no to Real Dad, plus
Kanva had enjoyed the part where I mewled and then, later, when I broke my nose jumping
off the scarecrow. I’d thought I was a blue jay, mostly, until my body pulled at me and I
recognized myself in the statues of women lapping at one another, ignoring all

surrounding uncles. It wasn’t as though I didn’t understand about Menaka, who while not
exactly human was by no means a bird. I just. Well. What if we were the first family to give
birth to beings in the form that suited them best, that was beautiful to whoever was doing
the most beholding? They’d tried to christian me (hm) Gayatri, after Real Dad’s Greatest Hit.
So when I saw a boy by the fire I introduced myself before anyone else could get a word in:

++++++++++Unforgettable, he said. I raised my left eyebrow: are you planning to forget
me? There are verses about bent eyebrows: you’d think they’d be more abstract, similes
rooted in geometry, fractals, but quite a bit of it is bent eyebrows and the way no one can
quite figure out where the wind is going to end up when it leaves the ashram. Dusyanta, he

called himself, like the crown prince: there was a lot of energy around that fire. His bow’d
been snapped clean in two and he told me all about his lack of desire to eat our animals and
offend the surrounding uncles. I liked our animals and I liked the efficiency of the break. I
have a hut to myself, I told him. Kanva, who fathers me, is off being congratulated for his

hymns elsewhere. The thing is, he said, I’m not supposed to – Jesus, kid. Are you set to
inherit your father’s bow factory or something furiously banal? I know all about good
families and I promise not to bring a kid into yours. It was a teeth-bared lie (I knew nothing
about good families save the uncles’ regrets), but:

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Don’t you want, he asked, to marry

++++++I don’t want to get married after! Dusyanta, so-called (self-called), was beautiful
the way my mother was beautiful: the lines of his face were so simple I thought I might have
traced them into the earth with a snapped twig, the plane of his chest broader than prayer
can bring about. I had something of my father in me, or else the birds had given me form,

all knobs and bones and if I jumped again, I half thought, I might really take flight. Every
memory I’d been passed about village life repelled me. Kanva had done it properly, pukka.
Later I’d find out he’d had two daughters before me but I never once knew their names.
I took my pallu off my shoulder and bared my breasts and kept going with the unwinding

until the boy’s jaw was at his balls and I tied the end of the pallu to his wrist. Wait – he said –
and since I’m not my tragic mother I did. He untied his loincloth – o! – and tied one end to
my wrist. After the fourth rounding of the bases I figured it out, refused to switch direction,
pleas useless.

++++++++++Come on, he said. Actually I’m really the prince. For real, for real. I was just
playing it cool before. If we get married you could come raise our kid in a huge castle and we
could make things fresh: fuck caste, fuck colonialism – we could divest the place from
everything, make the whole thing like this forest.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++So he’s nuts, I thought, but we were
already naked, and after all: I liked the forest and if he had shown himself to be not in the
least efficient at least he had good taste. After the third homer I veered off and he began
to follow – should we douse the fire? Nah, an uncle will be by soon enough, probably – and

wow. It was fast, and he got redder-faced after, so I took down my hair and let it fall across
his shoulders like a pet shadow and explained that it had been great and should he be
interested in taking a fake hunting trip to this part of the woods again I would be interested.
Aren’t you coming with? he asked. This is the part where I rescue you.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++For real, for real?
He nodded. So then I know when you live, I said, in farewell. After my Real Dad found out my
mother had motives of her own for stopping by he cursed her so she could never see him
again, but I had no motives, so I was safe. I wasn’t going to give it all up for a man.


Rashi Rohatgi is an Indian American in Arctic Norway. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in, amongst other venues, Best Small Fictions 2021, Midnight Breakfast, and Crossing Borders. Jaggery Lit called her novella, Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow, “fearless and breathtaking.” She is currently at work on a novel. Formerly a reader for The Rumpus, she has been an intern for Ayesha Pande Literary, Reviews Editor for Africa in Words, and Fiction Editor for Boston Accent Lit, where she convened the Accent Prize. Rashi is also a former AWP and Binders mentee and a Bread Loaf, VONA, and Tin House alumna.


Poetry | ‘Dear Captor’ & ‘74,013’ by Gina Williams | Issue 41 (May, 2021)

Dear Captor

Madison Hemings was the second of six children now known through DNA evidence to be the offspring of President Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings.

How does one address owner / father at once—
sir? master? mother’s rapist?

How did you address my mother / your
property, who bore six of your children

in a sooty, windowless room, waited on—
you at your deathbed, helped dig your grave?

My mother, who when pregnant at sixteen with a future president’s child—
negotiated her offspring’s freedom, but not her own, never her own.

What would you—
say to her now?

Say it—

Say her name.


When Nonna was a bird,
she could smell the best
figs from miles away.

This is the old story she tells
in her kitchen as she readies
the fruit, runs her tiny thumb

along soft, purple curves—
pierces the flesh, blade’s flash
from end-to-end.

“When I was a bird, long ago, before you
and everything else, even before time—
I flew to this tree for the best figs.

“Sweet and plump, soft as summer rain,
smelling of bee’s breath, swollen with
sugar and sunlight…”

She pauses to stir syrup
in a copper pot, scent of orange
zest, honey, cinnamon rising.

“I was a bird until your grandfather
called me to earth
with a song.”

I can see the fig tree beneath which
they were married swaying
in a light breeze.

She places the heart-shaped globes
carefully in a terra cotta pan,
pours golden liquid over the top.

As Nonna wipes juice
from her hands, I notice the smudge
of numbers staining one small arm.

While the figs bake,
we rest on the garden bench.
I take her hand,

place my palm over her wrist—
feel her heart warble and throb,
preparing for yet another escape.

Gina Williams is a freelance journalist, gardener, former wildland firefighter, and visual artist. She is the author of An Unwavering Horizon, a full-length collection of poetry published in 2020 (Finishing Line Press). Her writing and visual art have been featured most recently by The Inflectionist ReviewCarveLa Piccioletta BarcaMossRiver Teeth, and Electric Lit, among others. Gina lives and creates near Portland, Oregon USA with her best friend and fellow poet, husband Brad Garber. Learn more about her and her work at http://www.GinaMarieWilliams.com

Poetry | ‘A Courtesan’ by Mandakini Bhattacherya | Issue 41 (May, 2021)


Tum-ta, ta-thaiyya,
the ghungroo resonates;
the floor is the chandelier
that breaks into myriad pieces of light.
The green of my zari gown
tugs at the green of my envy
as I watch the naaz, kham,
lachak, every graceful move
of the trainee courtesan.
Mornings are now a sharp peck
by the parrot on my finger
that draws blood, the only
red I’ll ever know.

ghungroo – a dancer’s heavy anklet bells
naaz, kham, lachak – grace of movement
In India, wearing red signifies a married woman.

Mandakini Bhattacherya, from Kolkata, is currently an Associate Professor of English at Fakir Chand College, affiliated with the University of Calcutta in West Bengal, India. She is a multi-lingual poet composing in English, Hindi, Punjabi and Bengali, literary critic and translator. Her scholarly articles have been published in international and national journals, and also in books. Her poems have been published by international and national journals like Better Than Starbucks, The Dotism Journal, The HyperTexts, Poetry Nation, Mad Swirl Magazine, Setu Magazine, Muse India, Hayati, Sahityanama, Different Truths and LangLit. She was invited by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi and participated in the All India Young Writers’ Meet organised by it in February, 2020. She is Associate Editor of the MUSE OF NOW PARADIGM anthology published in 2020.


Poetry | ‘house-held-things’ by Sonali Pattnaik | Issue 41 (May, 2021)

‘house-held things’


she flaps the sheet like a mast
the bed a ship that she does not sail
she beats the dust out of the pillows
the mattress she heaves to the open
she spreads a garden of flowers every morning
and at night she is crushed, the flowers stain,
she will clean them out the next day,
a ship that never sails, a garden abloom by day


she dusts with rags and with ragged hands
the settling of days gone, upon things owned
wipes clean ceilings, fans that hang, low and high,
surfaces seen and unseen and from the corners of eyes
she spreads out stars on the skies of her children’s wet faces
dusts away anger in case it settles in their hearts
and tells them that it is a boat on a sea which they
think is the moon’s arc
sometimes they tell her she is wrong


she stirs and stirs like a witch all day
but has none of the potion’s power
she stirs sweetness into glasses of milk,
milks the goats, the packets of skimmed, she milks
her body thin till there isn’t a drop left
and fills emptiness anywhere with the warmth
of a fluid, bluish white
as she stirs and pours, and cuts and kneads
and kneels and burrows and fills
and the cream that is meant for her feet
remains untouched
feet go unnoticed on floral sheets,
feet, unlike milk, curdle from beneath


she weaves through space, she ferries bodies across
up and down, she moves round and round
the chairs are for arranging, not for sitting on,
even when she’s the only one playing
and the music has long stopped, she doesn’t win
she weaves laughter into her aching fingers
as she braids hair in the mornings,
coursing them through the tangles,
untangling pain, stitching up the hurts and wounds
in the evenings, embroidering the sealed skin
with a flower or two, unspooling
and then reeling in threads yet unbroken
tearing out others from the hem of a long day


she fills her hands, her nose, her nerves
with the scents of turmeric, oil, fish, wet earth,
rotten food, watery stools, neem leaves, curry leaves,
antibiotics, cooking gas, bathroom cleaning fluid, dung
soap and ink during the day and searches her memory
for the scent of dreams that she bundled into a knot
in the corner of the pillow she rests her head upon at night
the scent is something like dried tulsi leaves
She remembers to use a special concoction to rid her hand
of the smell of labour before he comes in
and locks the door from within. a scent of him
takes over everything


she builds the worlds that you win but when
she dusts the trophies that you brought home
having conquered that which you already own
she cannot recognize her face in the reflection-
it is deformed, caving
she gathers those silver and golden cups
and places them on shelves, the duster and keeper
of your history and while you engage with one of your kind
about histories myriad vagaries, they twinkle and shine,
and she rises to set the cups for tea


she pickles the small onions as they do
in fancy Chinese restaurants (where
only her husband orders the food)
and finds a jar to keep their red-purple within
and out of nowhere she often hears
her father’s praise of her mother’s cooking
she makes room for the relish on the table
she wipes her hands on a muslin and then
places the jar at the centre of things,
visible, insignificant, a parenthesis
jars do not reflect, only hold,
that which will soon be served as side-dish

Dr. Sonali Pattnaik is a poet, academic and visual artist based in Ahmedabad, India. She has an MPhil in English from Delhi University and a PhD in English  from Mumbai University and is (former) permanent Lecturer in English at Delhi University’s Kirori Mal College. She is currently visiting faculty at St. Xavier’s College Ahmedabad. Her poetry and artwork have most recently been published in The Kali Project (Indie Blu Publication, Pennsylvania, USA, 2021). Her poems have found homes (in print) in Journeys (Sampad, UK, 2010), and in online journals including, CafeDissensus, Muse IndiaWordgathering and Writer’s Asylum and her art most recently appeared in ‘Canvas Calling’ (The Shout Network, 2019).
Her academic publications include “Adaptation as ‘Becoming Other’. A Deleuzian Study of the film Omkara (V. Bhardwaj)” in In/dependence of Indian cinemas: Cartography of forms, genres and regions ed. Amandine D’Azevedo and Térésa Faucon, Paris: Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2016 and ” A Dramatic Film: Performative Politics in Peter Brook’s Mahabharata” in Narratives of Indian Cinema ed. Manju Jain, PRIMUS, New Delhi: 2009 among several others. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in journals including The Book Review (Harper Collins, India, 2016), Intersections (Murdoch, Australia), Tehelka and Women’s Web among others. 

Poetry | ‘Domestication’ by Tabish Nawaz | Issue 41 (May, 2021)


Bumping into each other
after a hiatus, we realized
how tamed now
the menagerie is within us
our goats no longer graze our hearts
the birds have flown out of our eyes
the foxes no longer think
the tigers chew the leaves from our hands
even our critters sleep peacefully at night.
We wonder how wild
everyone was back then – pang-ridden, hungry
devouring our timid selves.

(The poet dedicates the poem to Wislawa Szymborska)

Tabish teaches Environmental Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay. He has recently published his first short story collection Opening Clouds, Fermented Rain (Hawakal). His poems, essays and short stories have been published in The Critical Flame, Shimmer Spring Anthology, Ethos Literary Journal, The Punch Magazine, The Conversation, Indian Review, The Bangalore Review, Flash Fiction Magazine among other venues.

Poetry | Two Poems by Sam Cheuk | Issue 41 (May, 2021)

from a forthcoming collection on Hong Kong protests and their aftermath titled Postscripts from a City Burning to be published by Palimpsest Press in Oct 2021.

Nov 16, 2019

I used to be a teacher.
What am I to say
when a student responds,
after confessing I am
too chicken shit to stay,
“We’ll fight for all of us”?

They announce their names,
yelling “I will not kill myself”
while being dragged away,
in case their name is mistaken
for one fallen by mistake.

The student is still
messaging me via
an encrypted app, assuring
he’s safe for my sake.

If you were to die,
don’t die for my sake.
Die of old age, one
neither of us can envision;
die for love, die of earned
sadness, sickness, but
not this, not for this,
not now, wait it out
till my parents die,
till I die, stay.

Nov 27, 2019 (2)

Document the brief life I have
had with you. Note the contours
of my clavicles, times when I chortle
at your jokes, days when I retreat
into myself, looking for answers.

I haven’t found none, time better
spent with you, but I had to look,
to find someone worth your time.
We haven’t got much left.

This is what I will remember:
your outtie belly button,
your rehearsed fury at the waiter
the time when the food ran late,
knives and forks suspended in the air.
The way you snickered beneath
the orange-lit alleyway, taking off
your respirator to win a dare. ‘Twas fun.

Before we grow up into others,
remember our pulsing hearts
pressed against each other’s,
palm to palm. We were young.
Let’s not forget our errors.

Sam Cheuk is a Hong Kong-born Canadian poet and author of Love Figures (Insomniac Press, 2011), Deus et Machina (Baseline Press, 2017) and the upcoming collection Postscripts from a City Burning (Palimpsest Press, 2021) on the 2019 protests in Hong Kong and their aftermath. He holds an MFA in creative writing from New York University and BA in English literature from University of Toronto. He is currently working on the second half of the diptych, tentatively titled Marginalia, that examines the function, execution, and generative potential behind censorship. #香港人加油 #StandWithHongKong #MilkTeaAlliance

Poetry | ‘Front Camera’ by Sharvani H S | Issue 41 (May, 2021)

Front Camera

The ceramic crown on your upper molar
Behind creamish, crooked enamel
Hidden by a pout.

Rounder, shorter noses
That flare and protrude
Like it’s not your business.

The common blackish brownish iris
Melanin flavour not in season,
Not seen as anything worth seeing into.

Ears are the same of course,
Nothing special, nothing unusual.
It’s not an Egyptian point of view.

Double chin. Double chin.
Hide it by raising or angling.
Pretend you’re a swan.

Shoulders are flexible things,
Hunched, straight, tensed, dropped
All purpose support, free of charge.

Then – Uh Oh. It’s adult content.
NSFW warning! Blurry stuff ahead.
Dim the screen brightness.

You turned. Why?

I see an arm. Strong
covered in layers. A wide canvas
to fill with an imaginative identity.

Then the mountain peaks are visible
The summit looks interesting
Why are you crossing your arms?

Then the smaller hills. Bounded
by ridges and valleys. An occasional plateau
whose altitude keeps changing.

Some terrain is hard to define
With irregularities, non-standard measurements
Harder still to live with and love.

Ok. I’ll stop now.
You can stop squirming.
The rest will remain hidden.

But you missed out on a lot.
A lush forest that hides a beautiful waterfall
That frequently causes floods unfortunately.

Nevermind. It’s all there for another time.
It was always all there as is, you know.
Just explore a little
by switching off.

Sharvani is an engineer living and working in Bangalore. She has been writing since school and hopes to become better at it soon. Her work has appeared in a few online journals like Enchanting VersesKrityaSpark and once in print in Reading Hour.

Poetry | ‘Reprise: A Confession’ by Molly Zhu | Issue 41 (May, 2021)

Reprise: A Confession

Amir, I bet you don’t even remember this, but
I do. The day you told me you were a Muslim, we
were in the fourth grade and (forgive me) I was young
I didn’t know how to decipher the mass of your words quite
like I do now. I gashed the air around you with my tongue –
I delivered my disgust.
Light drained from your cheeks and the damage I had left
blotched in your skin.
(Suffice it to say) I am sorry now, as I was sorry then,
only seconds later, I immediately wished
I could take it all back, stuff a foam mattress once more into its
vacuum-sealed plastic casing, fish the sun from the Rubicon
and pull it back to sheltered earth.
(Of course, I could not do this).

Amir, I too, am a pawn in a poisoned America. I drink
from the groundwater where the hatred runs off to,
it swells under our homes and our gardens,
in our capillaries, in our swallowing throats.
Then it slinks out from the bottoms of our voices and back
into the air. So, I drink
the morality of the 24-hour news cycle
rolling on a whining hamster wheel, it
blares from the TV, the radio, I look up to what the
men in pressed suits are telling me, to what my parents tell me
in hushed tones whispering into cups of green tea,
I take what is dispatched to me, and
I dispatch that back to you… though sometimes,
(I tell myself) sometimes, I think twice.

Amir, I don’t know if you even think of me or that day,
here I am trying to answer to you, answer to me:
outlier or harbinger? I’m sorry. By the way,
I’m not like that now,
I’m not like that now.

Molly is a new poet and she lives in Brooklyn, New York. For her day job, she is a corporate attorney and in her free time, she loves thinking about words and reading and eating. She has previously published in the Rising Phoenix Review, the Ghost City Press, and 805 Lit + Art. Her work is forthcoming in Uppagus. You can find her on Instagram at: @mlz316.

Poetry | ‘Baldness’ by Romi Jain | Issue 41 (May, 2021)



Baldness defies adornment –

in its embrace of candidness:

whiffs of winds, gush of waters, torments of aversion

fall flat,

when in detesting artifice,

in the unembellished landscape of pride and self-esteem,  

boldness of pores prevail.

Romi Jain is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of British Columbia, Canada. She earned her PhD in education policy studies from Cleveland State University, Ohio, and her MBA from San Francisco State University, California. Her poems have appeared in literary journals such as Off the Coast (Maine, USA), Penwood Review (California, USA), Transition (Canada), Journal of Poetry Society (India), The Tower Journal, Touch: The Journal of Healing, and Munyori Literary Journal, and in international anthologies such as Veils, Halos and Shackles (edited by Charles Fishman), San Diego Poetry AnnualFamily Matters (India)and Poems from Conflicted Hearts. Jain’s poem “India: From the Lens of History” appeared in Harvard Asia Quarterly (Summer 2014), Harvard University Asia Center. Her creative works include The Storm Within (2008; 2011), Poetry! You Resurrect Me (2011) and Voices of Rocks in the Dusk (2012)

Poetry | ‘Kong’ & ‘The View’ by Theophilus Kwek | Issue 41 (May, 2021)


i.m. Emile Czaja aka ‘King Kong’
(b. Hungary, 1909; d. Singapore, 1970)

They called him King. Other names came later –
Samson, Hercules – but this one stuck, a name
he could twirl overhead as the crowd cheered,
one with its own weight class. No longer Emile,
they trembled at the thud as he took the stage,
made short work of the others (Tiger Ahmad,
Gorilla Wong…), the whole Great World rising
to their feet. Even Wildcat Hassan, who in ’47
had gone up against the star of the British base
was no match: everyone knew the ring belonged
to the boy from Budapest with the brazen hands.
Backstage, another world was being formed
in the sharp shadows of those stadium lamps,
each lock and throw an echo of the long night’s
hold, slipping surely into morning. By the time
he wound up at si-pai-por, pulled from a car’s
steel grip, his own gnarled fingers loosening,
the realm he knew had ceded title to another.
A clean flip, it happened right before his eyes.
Years later they said they hadn’t seen it coming.

The View
National Day, Singapore

Somewhere a flag is torn from its plastic.
A child ties the strings to a window-grille
and a blood shadow falls across the room.

There is red over everything. The chairs,
which were always beige, and also the floor
which is marble, and washes easily.

Even on television, the men seem
to redden as they troop into sight. Nothing
escapes. Close your eyes, and the darkness

takes on a pinkish hue, which gathers from
the sides like a flood. It’s hard to see now,
with all this red (that is, if you were one

to celebrate the view before), harder
to imagine how the room could have been
with its softer colours meant to set off

the coastal light. I think of it sometimes –
the low carved table, worn coffee-mugs, and
out our open doorway, the corridor.

Theophilus Kwek has published four collections of poetry, two of which were shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. His poems, essays and translations have appeared in The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, The London Magazine, and Mekong Review, among other publications. He serves as Poetry Editor of the Asian Books Blog, and his most recent collection, Moving House, is published by Carcanet Press in the UK.