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Satya Dash

Lightning Conductor

The news anchor looks restless on TV, his mouth waxes
                  and wanes, pauses like a dormant volcano when the telecast
freezes. Thunder mutes the drawing room; curtains

                               flare, behind them blink blasts of light. We have lost

televisions, their vulnerable motherboards

                        and cathode ray tubes falling prey to heating aberrations

in the past. My father hardly mentions the past, offers

                                            me very little when I forage for things I don’t

know, things I can plug in poems, things that gave him

                   joy or hurt him or anyway happened, things that might hurt

me, things that might cease mattering once
                they had been spoken about, and hence, never are. In the glow
of lamplight however, he tells me he won

                          a national poetry competition—it was 1958 or 59—word

had gotten around as the headmaster himself

                                      was visiting schools across the state but the prize

never arrived as postal services remained shut down
                 due to intermittent floods. A decade and a half later, a famine
lurking, and my father during his years

                                 of housemanship in the state’s hospitals, toiling away

night after night, transfer after transfer across most

                                              of the northern villages, to realize the dream

his father had bequeathed him. Apparently, he drank

                                     very little water in those years as cholera persisted
in the region—ironically, a reason for the chronic gastroenteritis
                              he later developed. His sugar is fine, unlike my mother

who has diabetes and has for years, preferred her tea

                                 sugarless. My mother unplugs the TV, crushes ginger

in the kitchen with a pestle as I set the milk

                                                    on gas. To do things in silence returns me

to familial comfort. How my mother spent those months

                                  and years, newly wed, having given up her education

and home, having traveled miles to begin a new life

                                with a sole stranger who wasn’t interested in marriage
and remained absent for the most part, I’m afraid to wonder,
                        let alone ask. I read out to her my poems, translating some

keywords and phrases into my mother

                                          tongue as I go along. I make sure she enunciates

after me. Words slipping from our mouths, between

                                 hot sips of tea, in jagged syncopation, rains clattering

the window panes—this ritual through the monsoons

                           recentering in me a seed of lucid education. I try making

sure these poems don’t involve my

                             parents. It’s no secret I stay wary of the speaker in them.

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