Three Poems by Rosalyn Marhatta

Pashupati

When I was black,
the color of shoe polish,
I wore a red sari,
put red powder in a part
that split my hair
into right and wrong,
I entered the temple
Pashupati on the banks
of the Bagmati
that pushed its holiness
through Kathmandu.

I walked over coins,
gold discs under my feet,
and met the golden bull
sitting on a pedestal
shining sunlight
off his brow.

Under my blackness,
I was whiteness,
floating in family,
who protected me,
warned me not to speak,
as I was forbidden entrance
to Pashupati,
where only Hindus
might pray.

The crowd came,
saw my American soul,
pushed around me
as I sat alone until
the third brother
took me to safety
before the sacrifice,
the slash of a kukri
on the throat
of a water buffalo.

 

Riyadh Odyssey 1982

No job, no money, not funny,
but funny how Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
saved us, became home with white flowers
meandering around date palms,
gold sand crashing against windows
and air that vibrated sunshine.

Saudi women walked down streets
cloaked in abbayas and veils—
black ghosts to most—
hiding everything womanly,
except wrists jingling gold bangles
and feet flashing fuchsia shoes from Paris.

We saw Saudi men covered in white
dance together on TV
their swords flailing overhead
(Fred and Ginger’s embraces
would have been erased
by the religious police.)
And we Americans
craving commercials
with women in bikinis
titled an onion-domed building
“the pink tit.”

Our life was the movie
Heat and Dust, a collision of cultures
and religions forbidden
in a country where “Allah Akbar”
the Muslim call to prayer
sang out from minarets
five times a day

How we froze in desert heat,
wore woolen sweaters in eighty degrees,
saw tennis ball hail in the swimming pool,
celebrated the Fourth of July in the gold souk
buying bangles.

We dined with our Saudi hosts,
licked lamb and rice from our fingers,
popped grape leaves stuffed with meat
into our mouths, drank mint tea in teeny glasses
while sitting on the floor at a white tablecloth,
remembering to eat with only the right hand.

 

Culture Break

Brown women in saris
feed me sweets, serve me tea
boiled with cardamom
and milk
that floats its skin on top
as I sit on a hardwood bed
that pokes my bones
through a mattress
thin as a beggar woman
standing at the door
requesting rice to cook.

Brown women sit on the floor,
legs crossed like butterfly wings,
sip tea, eat bananas small as fingers.
One woman has wrinkles
carved into her face; her black
hair dances like scorpions
escaping a shoe;
her voice soft as ice
pummels the air.

“How old are you?”
“How much do you weigh?”
“How much money do you have?”

These questions in Nepali
quick as arrows seeking flesh
jab at my jetlagged brain;
my language skills
permit me only to answer,
“Where is the bathroom?”

Two women lead me outside
to a brick building,
hand me a can of water,
turn on a lightbulb
tiny as a firefly.

Inside that blackness
dwells my nemesis:
two slabs of rock to stand on,
a hole between them my toilet,
the orifice of Hell, I think;
Hell with no toilet paper.

Unpracticed as a new gymnast
quivering on a balance beam,
I squat;
my bowels let loose brown roses
flowering the back wall,
not at all the protocol,
yet not so strange
for an American
bride seeking comfort
in a commode with a seat,
no deep knee bends required.

Rosalyn Marhatta

Rosalyn Marhatta


Rosalyn Marhatta has been writing poetry since 2009 and participating in open mics which thrill her like dancing on the moon. She almost kissed a microphone once and frequently emcees the Writer’s Group of the Triad’s Third Sunday at Three program. She was selected by the NC Poetry Society to be mentored by Lynn Veach Sadler in the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series. She has poetry published in anthologies including Kakalak 2014 and Fire and Chocolate. Her work has appeared in Vox Poetica, Referential Magazine, Wild Goose Poetry Review, and Then and If.

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