I looked in my sister’s face
and found my reflection, the one
I had crawled out of somewhere last year,
The shell on the other side of the room, I
carry her with me, the carcass, the carapace
still venom filled, I am not sure where to bury it
or if I want to.
We find comfort in our own poisons, our
own demons – who else stayed when everyone left?
I have a face made
sometimes out of mountainside,
stone and river water,
poured from a crescent ice moon.
I carry still steel-tipped and poison dipped
arrow shards in my thumbprints, a numb
prince, a genderbent Goldilocks in my bed
asked me why are you so cruel?
and I laughed and asked him why do you prefer
white women?, and he asked me again, but why
are you so cruel? and I told him: It’s a long story, and
you might not understand, but
after someone ripped out my tongue, I lost my voice a little bit,
sat there, stunned, and stung, and then one day
he came along, a handsome prince, dark like me,
and asked me to help him lift a bow for the princess of his dreams,
“I don’t need a bow,” I joked,
And embarrassed, he muttered “it isn’t for you; I should go.”
I laughed, and being a woman
of many faces, and this one,
made of old stone, gunpowder, and grandmother river water,
he did not recognise me. “Tell me more about this bow,” I said.
And he told me (a little stressed):
“The princess of the land has set a task for any suitor: she
played with this bow as a child, a bow that no grown
man can move, or lift, or string – she moved and lifted it as a young girl.
And she will only marry the man that lifts it.”
“What a task! tsk tsk – isn’t she a cruel princess?” I asked.
“No,” he said, his voice softening. “No, she is brave, and kind,
and strong. And she wants someone to match her, which is only fair, I guess.”
“And do you? Match her?”
“No, she is matchless, ” he said in wonder.
And I smiled. After all, every girl likes to hear
good things about herself, and flattery
can sometimes get you somewhere.
“I will help you. But a witch has her conditions:
I will help you, if” I told him, “you treat her well,
and if you remember me in your stories. And if you agree,
then the bow shall be yours.”
And once he agreed, I strung my bow, having played with it
countless times as a girl, strung it with my hair,
so that it still smelled of coconut oil, jasmine, and
Herbal Essence’s Volumizing shampoo, (which he didn’t pick up on, but then
men are a bit obtuse when it comes to such things) I
strung it for a handsome prince, centuries ago,
handed it to him in secret, in the night before the swayamvara,
and spun a spell to let him lift it the next day, in front of a crowd,
in front of me, and he strung it again, his fingers in my hair
for the first time.
(Legend has it that he broke the bow, but they weren’t there, and
everyone likes a good story, and there is something
magnificent about a man breaking a bow for his love.
But that never really happened. Mostly I giggled, and he looked a bit nervous
right before he managed to lift it with ease.)
What he broke was his word, my heart, never mentioned
the old woman who had helped him, and sent me
the matchless princess, now Queen, walking through
fire, banished me from his kingdom, sent me
to the forest, until one day, I finally asked my mother,
the earth to break open and swallow me.
In a way, he broke her too.
“He owes you,” she said, “your tongue.” She clucked
her tongue like every Desi mom: “I
told you that boy was bad news. 14 years in a forest?
Making you walk through fire after you were kidnapped? Go
stand up for yourself and forget this love -shuv.”
There is nothing, quite as biting
as a brown mother’s “I told you so”
So when I walked into his hall with my old stone face, my gunpowder face,
my grandmother river water face, I saw his eyes widen, those
beautiful lines, those eyelashes his mother oiled, and the way he smelled like
incense behind his ears, that firm jaw, and full head of hair, his shoulders broad enough for mine, I saw them tremble just the slightest, and felt
the memory of kisses for little *matchless* me dance
across my face, like butterflies, like moths.
When I kept walking toward his throne,
saw him clutch my bow to his chest,
strung with my own hair, strong as the
smell of curry leaves and garam masala in a Canadian house
that the white neighbours
mutter about how the country was going to pieces – I
saw, how easily he pretended
it was his.
when I saw him draw it back to his ear, just
like I had taught him, his fingers trembled, and
I, laughing, kept walking
toward this marksman, this King,
“It has,” I said “been some time,
and I have come for what
is rightfully mine, this
was never a game of
finders-keepers, that bow
was mine – is mine – and my sisters’.”
When his face lost
all blue colour, and his fingers slipped,
I caught the arrow he sent flying
between my smiling lips,
“Hey handsome, remember me? only
a little girl ever played with that bow, and only
that woman could ever wield it,
string it; any arrow you send from it
was my birthright
from before time
and before you.”
And ever since then, I finished, I have an arrow for a tongue.
I met a prince a few days ago, with a crown of gold,
fair and beautiful, just like all the commercials, he
even tasted like winter mint spearmint, a walking
talking advert for every product around the globe,
body like a runner’s
cheekbones like a chisel, and he
even helped me with laundry,
was shy and kind and preferred white women
and I was cruel and funny and softened
a little when we kissed.