Her Discourse on the Leaf
Here is the place where the leaf leaves the tree, the hole in the stem where the umbilical cord is not, has been slashed, shriveled, then disappeared, like the Guatemalans into our grip of history, or the ocean when you round a curve cut into the mountain, cut with bulldozers & barricades, the roots of trees pushing out like amputated limbs still feeling themselves itch. This is where you can find me.
But when you liberate me, I will open onto a new scene like cardboard doors of a puppet stage, mother & father pounding their united No, my first word. I always dreamed of coming down the spiral stairs in white veils. For breakfast: sunset eggs, fat slabs of bacon, cereal wading in milk-glue, a kiss before the buzz of the school bus. But I could only eat toast & tea. All the rest made me sick. We are not born Americans, after all.
Out there someone’s sailing the Pacific of privilege, wind-filled white tearing the seersucker blue, which any moment the sun will set aflame. I would stake your life on it. As you have wagered mine, ours, wages flipped on green felt tables: seven-card stud, Texas hold’em, pai gow, horseraces & pigskin. It must be cold out there on the yachts. They will need their eiderdown jackets & rubber boots, their oiled sealskins. I know how the salt air whips, & every mirage is really there, wet & chilling to the extremities. I get cold flashes in my toes. I have the iciest hands & feet of anyone I know.
Soon only the poinsettias will still be alive, crinkled in red foil, their leaves like velvet paintings inscribed with gold cowboys or dying landscapes of fruit where we could travel strange as pilgrims. I can’t wait to wear that guise, chop celery & bread crusts for the belly of our free-range turkey, pierce its skin with mace-sharp cloves. I will lipstick its beak with cranberries & thyme. Kiss me, I will say. Kiss me,
yes, now, while everything is pink: the smoke-soaked shag, curved iron rail, bottom of the sky. All blues recede. I turn up the heat, twist switches of lights. Don’t do me these favors. I am waiting for the pink to condense to caviar black. I won’t leave, eat, or sleep until then. Slashing prince-like through the brambles, you’ll think I love you more, then.
Let’s dismiss the sun, that artifact of lost seasons. Mid-hibernation I taste the dry crisp mouth of autumn, thirst all the way to the back of my throat. I eat spicy dan-dan mein till it comes out my nose, clarified. My ears are frostbitten by the shouts of ugly children. It’s the cheerful ones I hate, the have-a-nice-day girls, the ones who giggle whenever someone talks about night. This is the season of our death & it is where we want to stay.
Really the falling part is no big deal. I have been noticing the leaves desert their branches since March. What’s new is the rain stinging the tin gutters, turning the shingled dormitories gray as nuns, & our boots grinding gravel into concrete stairs. We are all wearing boots this year, hiking boots tawny like hummus & pita bread, light but substantial. Me, I prefer black leather or even suede with dyed fringes to crush rusty leaves, half-smoked Marlboros, purple flowers tiny as snails, pistachio shells because someone’s got money, enough to squander uncracked nuts intact & meaty
but even in this hunger I won’t stop for them, keep moving, thighs aching from too much & not enough walking. We are making a statement with our displaced high-fashion boots, the gravel is growling its own statement.
This leaf is the least of it.
Minal Hajratwala (www.minalhajratwala.com) is author of the award-winning epic Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents (2009), which was called “incomparable” by Alice Walker and “searingly honest” by the Washington Post, and editor of Out! Stories from the New Queer India (2013). Her latest book is Bountiful Instructions for Enlightenment, published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a collective of which she is a co-founder. She graduated from Stanford University, was a fellow at Columbia University, and was a 2011 Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar. As a writing coach, she loves helping people give voice to untold stories.
Ben McClendon is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Tennessee. He previously studied poetry at Northern Arizona University after teaching high school English for several years. His poems have appeared in Indiana Review, Yemassee, Chautauqua, Redivider, Rattle, Word Riot, and elsewhere. Ben lives with his husband in Knoxville.