The next day a surgeon removed my lentil-sized embryo and the fallopian tube it was stuck in. Left to grow, the embryo I wanted so badly to be my first child would have killed me. As a person of Indian descent, I’m familiar with lentils of many kinds and all sizes: fresh, dried, whole, split. Even now, ten years later, when I wash lentils, I pinch the thin discs between my fingers and marvel that the tiny potential of a person can be packed into such a small package.
What God Is Honored Here?is a collection of writings by Indigenous women and women of color on pregnancy and infant loss — the first ever. It is an honor, indeed, to have my essay, Binding Signs, included. The title is from a Lucille Clifton poem, a poem that reminds me of one I rely on often, by Aracelis Girmay, to the sea.
Everyone knows someone who has lost a pregnancy or an infant. The only thing that’s shocking is how little we talk about something so common, but that sort of silence — its violence — is bound into the meaning of the collection. Just like racism, sexual assault, and so much else unspoken in our society. This book part of the power of confronting that silence head-on, directly, refusing to shush or shy away from that which is hard, complicated and provokes ambivalence. This collection is offers a fierce and visionary solidarity – of many experiences, rightly their own, bound together. Whatever I think about God and honor – I do still believe in the power and solidarity that comes from speaking plainly, and from that – and my own unexpected happiness – I remain loudly optimistic.
Four years ago, my dad died. I wrote about sitting shiva and saying kaddish for him and the solidarity I found in that with Jews and non-Jews alike.
We Jews are a tiny community, full of weird and difficult and sometimes alienating rituals in languages many of us don’t speak. My dad wasn’t Jewish, but that did not diminish his enthusiastic participation in our ritual, even when he didn’t get it “right.” He never missed a seder or a break fast at my house, even when my mother couldn’t come. He showed up, and that was what mattered most. Similarly, while I sat shiva, my friends, acquaintances, colleagues, they showed up.
Solidarity is the idea that we don’t have to be the same to want the best for one another, that we can keep each other safe, we can share what we have, that we can find our way to consensus about how best to be in community together, better known as “democracy.” And that we will fight for it and for one another.”
I write with Maurice Mitchell in Newsweek about there is nothing – no guns, no bombs, no rhetoric – that will shake us from our communities’ commitments to one another.
And this return is one to memoir and creative non fiction, after so long as solely a poet. I’m proud to be multi-genre, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-everything writer-person, and so pleased that this essay found a home on the Sisterhood blog of the Jewish Forward. Sending hope and strength to anyone facing infertility now, this National Infertility Week, and all year long.
The Jewish imperative to life helped me find air when I felt I might drown in a sea of overwhelming sadness. Without it, I was so focused on what was lost that I nearly lost track of what was not – my own self, my potential, my life full of creativity and friendship. Jewish ritual and teaching, with its unambiguous insistence on the soul of the mother and the not-soul of the embryo, restored that to me. It gave me the courage to grab strong hold of my new partner, my bashert, with whom I now make a Jewish home.
Last year, to mark my exit from these years of sorrow, I ran the NYC marathon. I also hired a Hebrew tutor. At her suggestion, I ran loop after loop in Prospect Park to the v’ahavta, learning the sounds, the rhythm and, in some way, inscribing the might of the prayer into muscle memory.
I’m not Muslim and I’m the right kind of brown and I called my family in Mysore today as I do most Sundays because #daughterofanimmigrant and they asked, as they often do, “when are you coming to visit?” And I said, “now it is so hard” and I could hear the nods in a short silence seven thousand miles long. My uncles and aunt have a long running card game, and I heard the updated tally — my aunt is winning — and I said, don’t cheat, the vocabulary word for cheat — mosa — a pearl, passed to me from my great-great aunt Thayi who did enthusiastically, unapologetically cheat
[and in her example I am redacting the rest of this poem because I have submitted it! cheating FTW!] but here is the end:
And we, we are the lucky ones, no one is facing deportation and my difficulties are quotidian, time and money and the chances are high this sort of thing would not happen to me, a Hindu, a Jew, a poet — because the security state does not seem to read poetry even as they tap our phones and check our Facebook posts.
Of [my] poem, BK, AM, Randall Mann wrote: “‘There are so many things to admire…a delicacy; a charity of things left appropriately unsaid; an ease that looks easy, but isn’t.””
My poem and the lovely things Randall said are here, on the Podium site. I’m very honored he chose it for a prize named after a new poetic foremother, Rachel Wetzsteon. Here is one my favorites of hers.
An ease that looks easy, but isn’t, sums up these last years since the poem saw print. I’m glad, after a long silence, to have words back again, arranging themselves.