After three days, the city finally opened itself
to the poet, unfurled its petals like a hesitant blossom
responding to shafts of afternoon light. The poet wandered,
marveling at her footloose days, at fallen leaves, at ruined walls.
The poet spent hours getting lost in the cramped streets of
bookstores, quiet minutes spent with titles like strangers' lives
she would never access. She leafed through verse and prose
until she could taste words blooming on her own hesitant tongue,
could refer to herself in third person, half-amused and half-overwhelmed
by her gloriously human mind, her petty fears, her loves as vast as cities;
and by the city itself, that she encountered anew each day, an insistent lover
she could never learn well enough, a world of strangers and familiar lives.
The poet was still as a wallflower, the words all packed within her but
covered with thin ice. The city expanded and shrunk itself, sometimes
seeming as large as the distance between where the cab picked her up
and where it dropped her off; sometimes as small as the blood-red and
speckled leaf she gathered from the sidewalk to her chest like a gem.
Some days there is enough fear to render her helpless, leave her mind
frantic and desperate, and then aching. Some days the walls of the room
do not seem strong enough to keep the vile world out. It is often hard.
The poet never feels like she belongs, and often confesses how afraid
she is of men on the street: their entitlement, their insistent eyes, their
fearless swagger. The poet has been thinking, but has written nothing
in so many days. She is, as usual, brimming and overfull, preparing
the land for monsoon and then a glorious, sun-yellow harvest.
Today the poet shed off fears like heavy fruit off her branches, let go
of the burdens she didn't need. The poet scrubbed her skin and walked
out in the city, hid only between bookshelves and strangers on the street,
collected moments and sun and dust in the lining of her skin until she
felt as large as love. To be alone in a city is a great adventure, she says.
Later, when the last thin moments of golden light were disappearing
behind vehicles and footsteps, she walked away from her solitude,
skillfully navigated a road full of frantic vehicles momentarily stilled,
weaved through scooters and buses like a small animal in the wilderness.
From the safety of the sidewalk, she marveled at her own swagger through
the city now, her heart swollen and glad, her footsteps racing towards a
kind lover. Her bag was filled with thin books like slices of the moon,
rare and magnificent, shining when she held them in her reverential palms:
how could the world extend anything but love towards her when she
loved it so fiercely, so fully, when she blossomed out of her own meager skin
like a reluctant caterpillar just so she could belong better, be bigger,
just so she could graze the day with her eager fingertips?