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Carillon, and: Whispering Sisters
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… 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 saying
her name sounds like metal breaking.
She danced the way water moves, let me part
her (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 girl
the way one loves a firefly, a god,
a star, any sparkle in any sky.
Tenderly, and from a great distance.

Whispering Sisters

Mangalore, India

There were four of them,
three sisters and my mother.
I was a will-o’-the-wisp muffled
in the hush of lips breathing words
more hiss than sound,
sweet almonds of intimacy
to the spiraled caverns of other ears.

I learned early what it was to be
a misfit, a girl behind glass, inside it.
The sibling cast out
of 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 lull
and thick hums contains no sibilants
spinning spiteful webs,
I could only guess I must have been
the caught insect at the heart
of their spidery speakings
(mouths moving no sound).
If not for the cupped hands
holding the seawater siftings back,
I might’ve mastered lipreading.
As it was, I strained until I could nearly make out
the 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.

Reading Lips

So much had to die to make me:
a dove dissected and splayed
like a windowpaned moth
shaped my lungs.
The dove was glass and my breath
was blown glass and my hair spun glass.
I was lethal to the touch.
So much had to break
down before I had the raw materials
to make a girl too easily shattered,
too cutting. My body—glass hinged
to what could bend
the 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 castles
of my inner ears, where sharp words
once rushed by like water birds.

Marrying Me Off

The astrologer assembled my charts,
matched them against a meek man
from a suitable home, and my father
gave me to him—deli-wrapped in my finest sari.
Then I married that gentle, useless man and tried to love
him for forty years.
Because that’s how we do things,
how things are done.

On my wedding night, I watched him unwind me
from the gilded silk coil of sari.
I thought he’d see clear through
the watercolored soul of me.

The glass skeleton inside my skin
holds 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.

Deaf Drowning

I grew shriller, trying
for 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 the synchronized charts.
The boy’s studies soared him to America,
where people “marry for love,” my...

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