… not to disturb the slumbers of La Esmeralda; the unfortunate creature would be awakened time enough to die.—Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Bells ring of a dark-haired girl sayingher name sounds like metal breaking.She danced the way water moves, let me parther (if only he’d said part with her).What if the gypsy girl had kissed the priest?If she’d spun slowly, faced him full-on.What if she’d called his name just once and low?Said something about pain and music,a painted tambourine, the body’s sway.If he’d forgive her beauty, his desire?Or if a priest could love a gypsy girlthe way one loves a firefly, a god,a star, any sparkle in any sky.Tenderly, and from a great distance. [End Page 280]
There were four of them,three sisters and my mother.I was a will-o’-the-wisp muffledin the hush of lips breathing wordsmore hiss than sound,sweet almonds of intimacyto the spiraled caverns of other ears.
I learned early what it was to bea misfit, a girl behind glass, inside it.The sibling cast outof ice’s permanent twin,sharp edges in the mouth,muted and cold to touch.
Because I couldn’t make out the sizzle of their s’s,because my name, Lalitha, all lulland thick hums contains no sibilantsspinning spiteful webs,I could only guess I must have beenthe caught insect at the heartof their spidery speakings(mouths moving no sound).If not for the cupped handsholding the seawater siftings back,I might’ve mastered lipreading.As it was, I strained until I could nearly make outthe rhythms of their smothered syllables but never the words.
Through walls and buildings and miles and years,just once to be the one whispered to. [End Page 281]
So much had to die to make me:a dove dissected and splayedlike a windowpaned mothshaped my lungs.The dove was glass and my breathwas blown glass and my hair spun glass.I was lethal to the touch.So much had to breakdown before I had the raw materialsto make a girl too easily shattered,too cutting. My body—glass hingedto what could bendthe ears of the sisters, years outside my grasp.No one was listening. So I held my tongue, grew trustless and bitter,an old bottle mired in gossip’s swamp.
Don’t you see? Glass or diamond.I could’ve gone either way.The limestone of my village dust.The quartz of my see-through spirit,the grinding down, the pressure,the thin silica and sand castlesof my inner ears, where sharp wordsonce rushed by like water birds.
Marrying Me Off
The astrologer assembled my charts,matched them against a meek manfrom a suitable home, and my fathergave me to him—deli-wrapped in my finest sari.Then I married that gentle, useless man and tried to love [End Page 282] him for forty years.Because that’s how we do things,how things are done.
On my wedding night, I watched him unwind mefrom the gilded silk coil of sari.I thought he’d see clear throughthe watercolored soul of me.
The glass skeleton inside my skinholds sorrow for marrow,rivers inside my bones.Dark brittle, soft and porous as graphite.Snap a hand off at the wrist, use my own radius to write me off.
I am the woman worked from glass.I am no music.These years are taking toll,taking the girl—but not the hurt—from me, plucking the star from starling.
I grew shriller, tryingfor a pitch so high it dared glass.I bore two children.A daughter first, a beauty.No worry for her.The stars beam on a beautiful girl.The world forgives her.Later, a son. My child. Restless and bright.The girl grew even more lovely and married.A good match. The astrologer nodded at...