Guide to Bharatanatyam
Your smile, shredded into silver shards
across panes of mirrors lining studio walls.
Tuck your sari, tight. Open your eyes, wide.
You learn, day one – all of five years old
and already told you are cumbersome –
to dance against the shadows,
between the cracks where mildew grows.
Smile. There, where one mirror ends
and the other has not yet begun,
you learn to lose yourself in a pivot.
Win the spelling bee and you will know what it means to be lonely.
“You beat them!” my father says. His dark skin tries hard to flush.
But I did not beat them; I beat her: Maddy Johnson – blue-eyed,
blonde-haired. We are in fifth grade, but our battle is older.
Win the spelling bee and you will know what it means
to master the tongue that has mastered you. To boast of your victory
in the language of your master. My winning word was aubergine:
a u b e r g i n e. Aubergine. “I knew you would get it right,” my father
tells me in the car ride home, “because it’s a word from Sanskrit.”
I smile. I nod. I did not know this. I do not know Sanskrit;
I know: Sanskrit. s a n s k r i t.