Always the sound of knots tearing, the scratch of hair against metal. Those summer evenings when I’d go by
Anu’s apartment on the floor above mine, #406, and watch her mother tug at her hair with a steel-toothed comb, their room
smelled of coconut oil and meat left over from dinner. She can’t cut her hair—ever. And so, every night is a tug of war
with her mother, whose brown fingers pull and rub, spreading the strands out like a sheet against her back. Anu’s father would laugh
at my skin, telling me to drink black tea, sit in the sun, darken up, and let my hair grow beyond my nape at least, his fingers
at the edge of my shirt collar. He’d never felt the edges of a scissor’s blade—his full gray beard and hair mixing in a weave of silver-black—
a patchwork, a lifetime of wants, which he rolled around the perimeter of his head and chin ending in a tight fist at the top. Her mother
whispered words into Anu’s scalp and neck, with each strand, a different story—of American boys and dances, where skin touched, hair swayed
down backs, of the mythic Sita walking into fire to prove her purity. We knew about American boys— how there were none in our neighborhood, [End Page 27]
how they’d ride by on bikes, and we’d watch them from our bedroom windows and sometimes, from the front steps—their clean-skinned cheekbones,
smooth chests. All the while, Anu would move between her mother’s thighs like the fireflies we’d catch in our hands, humming and igniting against skin.
Vandana Khanna, who lives in Los Angeles, was born in New Delhi, India, but has lived most of her life in the United States. She received the MFA in poetry at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she was the 1994 Fellowship Recipient. Her poems have appeared in Hawaii Review, Cream City Review, and Crazyhorse.