on summer days, my mother gardened by Rukmini Kalamangalam

as if we were empty as if inside us both there was not a mouth hungry. sour with the taste of a leaving sickness a shovel, green with worn sponge handle bent backwards by impatient child child a squirrel before tomato vine child who knew how to salivate how to hunger how to ask a golden mother to bring the harvest our fingers returning long and cut by the sides of a lemongrass leaf child in the passenger, seatbelt high and sharp choking shard of earthen pot thumbed pot made of front yard houston clay roots lingering between painted lines ms herrick taught us how to make pots and then went to jail. her son’s pills beneath the seat in her zero-tolerance no place for hate car. when she came back she cried for the women left behind and the blanket they held around her as she pissed, naked, into the metal bowl in the corner. don’t children peel back all the layers of us? I will tell mine leave me my boiled skin limp like pressed flowers under the weight of a houston sun the damp of houston air the air heavy with last flood next flood leave me stories of unbending birch bark scraping off like dead skin in the sheets draping lemongrass escaping its pot the way it melted the way it was once sharp the way it drained slowly into our tea we tilled the ground summer and fall we swatted mosquito from feast feasted the pink-throated lizard in its greenery in its nascence we were once nascent beautiful on a wooden fence the snow-pea trellis we wound tendrilled vines around post post after post wound each other and then the ground froze the kardi patti leaves floated slowly to the deadening grass I’ll teach my children how to hold a hose feel stagnation pool between their toes how sometimes we stay still when mosquitoes bite how the mosquito moves when it’s sated fat with blood how we strike it then and then our blood is ours again against the fence of our skin

Rukmini Kalamangalam is a first-gen page and performance poet from Houston, Texas, USA. She was a sophomore at Emory University at the time this poem was published. In 2018, she was named Youth Poet Laureate of the Southwest as well as Houston Youth Poet Laureate. Her poem, “After Harvey,” was set to music by the Houston Grand Opera. She has been published by Jet Fuel Review, Blue Marble Review, Da Camera Museum, GASHER, and Tilde, among others. This piece appears in SAND 21.