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hunger. ritual. belonging.

By Ena Ganguly

2024 Peseroff Poetry Prize Winner

"

"The poem was absolutely compelling. The title and style, palindrome, was captivating. This piece resonated deeply. The way Ena describes culture, the rituals of their culture, mother earth in comparison to their mother and family is powerful."

— Amanda Shea, 24' Judge

In my language,

red

is a palindrome

           

 

laal

no matter which direction I say it

I arrive at the same place:

 

hunger.

ritual.

belonging.

 

laal

like back home where I was born

we celebrate each day

with flowers

to the Mother Goddess

 

Kaali,

her mouth resting                                                                                           

smiling down at me, at no one                                                                                               

 

at her feet

my hands

blooming with soft red

hibiscus petals

 

laal

like the red border

of cotton saris

 

when white conches sang

and our mother

swam back into the pitch-black

comfort of the sea

 

I remember it all but

the memory is not mine

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       laal

the color of the earth

in a home

taking its last breath

before the blow

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            laal

the flat cold floor

on which I laid my body

onto

 

under the hot summer days

the voices of blood ones,

I am trying to love

rose like waves and swept me to sleep

laal

memories

I  held onto

like

red glass bangles,

impossible to  keep

from breaking into

 

                          dis

join

                                 ted

p ie              ce        s

 

laal

the passion

of anger,

which is only just grief

with its guard up,

 

furiously painting over

those lost pieces

of home

who refuse to be found

           

            over the honesty

                         of unnamed feelings

 

over the precise fragility

             in confusion

 

like how home can take centuries

to create on a land that we call our own

for generations

                                       then, on one fine day,

                                                   so quickly, packed up

                                       thrown into 

                                       a four-letter word

that I return to,

forwards and

backwards,

arriving at,

                                       always arriving at:

 

hunger, ritual, belonging.

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