I thought it was the city, the muddled city. Outside the car window—everything surging—
children scratching glass, never having seen anyone so pale, broken animals, roads bitten away. India. When I look back
I will remember you crying in the heat of the car, before we ever reached the Taj, before we climbed up
the steps, hot grass then cool marble under our feet. We thought we had seen everything—the President’s house, India Gate with its guards
and faded postcards, Quitar Minar where the man pulled your arms behind your back, around the pillar for good luck.
You hoped it was worth the ache that followed the rest of the day. We traveled the city like we didn’t belong, a place I should call home
but as foreign to me as to you. And you? Who can say why you cried, two miles from the Taj in the city proper. My aunt thought it was the heat.
Maybe it was roaming the cluttered streets, no face your own, or that smell when we stepped off the plane—
mixture of petroleum, spice and dust. Or was it dusk? Then there were the stares, the calls to come look,
glass bangles shaken at us like charms, like some spell and it was, with garlands stringing the runway like tiny beads of blood.
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.