Starsick

On a standard family holiday, the kind where parents pretend
to be too good for the city they strut in and talk about escape
but they’re merely sick of the heat and their kids getting restless,
on such a holiday our train stood still on the tracks for five hours
because of a bomb scare. We weren’t scared. I doubt we even
knew the details, but we were bummed without the station stop refills
of hard-boiled eggs and milky tea, and we were tired of acrobatics
in the muddying toilets, and we were tired in the way waiting
makes you tired. I imagined a tale of gore and grief, undecided
if I would live to tell it. I imagined stepping out at our destination,
whipped into fresh gratitude by the mountain air. Instead—
Cars on every inch of road all the way into the rocky heart,
honks and curses flying through the fumes forever till finally,
at the thickest fold of dusk, we burst through and raced
with the taste of new liberty, lurching at every loop until
my mother of the steely resolve, and I, long defeated,
could no longer get by on patience or Pepsi so we stopped
the car and stepped into what was now the night, silhouettes
of mountain peaks melting into emptiness, and from discreet
corners we heaved, feeling the familiar surge of shame and relief,
when past the horizon of my nauseous haze I could hear
my mother say something. Tara dekh tara, up there. I thought,
Dear god is ma really asking me to check out the fucking stars
but somehow instinctively I looked up and there they were,
smothering the sky, so soft, so bright over our heads that I
couldn’t help laughing. Here was so much beauty and here
we were, hunched, scarf smelling of sick, head spinning
(you’d think stars were the cause) and through the dark
I heard her laugh, ma, always in on the joke and always more
amused than anyone else. Ki holo? my brother asked, then
baba, uncertain laughter streaking their voices. What is it?

Anushka Sen is an international PhD student from Kolkata, India. Currently at Indiana University, Bloomington, she works on animal presence and spatiality in modernist literature. She is deeply invested in pedagogy, Indian politics, and all sorts of poetry from the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Paul Celan to Harryette Mullen. Her own poetry and nonfiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in VAYAVYA, The Dalhousie Review, Elsewhere Lit, and Popula.

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