She is afraid to cross the street alone here
So she grazes his elbow with her right hand.
Twenty-nine years old and her father is her
Security on this eight-minute walk
From the hotel to his sister’s house, from
One side of the busiest street in this country
To the other.
She lets him think he blends in,
Allows him the privilege of believing
His departure thirty years ago
Doesn’t make this country any less his;
That leaving his home to give his children
One that wouldn’t rank them by ethnic group
Is not the definition of choice.
She has learned her place here.
As a teenager she thought
She could camouflage herself in
A salwar kameez,
Plait in her hair,
Pottu on her forehead, and
Slippers on her feet. But she
Wears her passport in the way she
Looks men in the eye,
Pays too much attention to the trishaws and
Passengers almost falling out of buses.
She asks to stop at the bookstore so she can
Practice her Tamil.
He lets her get away with knowing how to ask
While needing him to translate
The answer into English.
Gowri Koneswaran is a poet, singer, and lawyer based in Washington, D.C. She has been a featured poet at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Campus Progress’s Protest Through Poetry, Sulu D.C., and Busboys & Poets. Gowri released her first chapbook, Still Beating, in 2010. She hosts “Poetry in the Morning” at BloomBars community arts space and was a member of the 2010 D.C. Southern Fried Slam team.
The distance from here to there by Gowri Koneswaran (c) Copyright Gowri Koneswaran; printed by permission of the author.