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by Shankar Narayan

To you,

whose well-nourished lovers stripped naked
ruddy and unscarred, not knowing the meaning of shame,
my starvation physique is a strangely beautiful

foreign tongue, a body built through centuries
of hard wandering, a tradition I can’t help
but continue. The chasm between us

is a metaphor of distance I don’t know
how to live every day. Somewhere in your body lies
an inexhaustible void filling me in. Forbidden woman

of whitemilk, hard-edged longing, these arcing acetylene
breasts so white I drown in them, these nipples swelling
Playboy pink under my thumb,

they always look back
with their red-eyed unattainable
power, and I always die

smiling. I came
to this country with a suitcase and a body. I have carried them with me
since, burden and fortress, a heaviness

always unable to pass
checkpoints, traverse your canyons. Punished or blessed,
I can’t tell through the ache, my body

angular with bones, hungers, and distances
constantly recreating my life
in this strange place. I never could have told you,

my white lovers,

that only in these moments with you,
when my cock rises black and red like Shiva’s serpent
into the dance that will end all boundaries,

rising to your hands of milk and privilege,
to your mouth with straight white teeth
you hide behind overripe tamarind

lips, you never let them touch

but I can’t help feeling them in the distance
somewhere behind your tongue forking down

my flagstaff on this battlefield—
only in these moments is the power
of this world thrown into reverse,

and only now do I find the courage
to put down my burden of a body and surrender
to the susurrations of your white power,

and I enter into you

as vulnerable as Ashoka into the sangha,
sick with killing and into the monastery’s
refuge, I enter into you

as I have entered into yours, my essence whitening
milk inside you, my suitcase broken open, my few possessions
scattered, and across the beachhead our salt

mixing, our bodies born centuries apart
now sweating with the burdens we want
them to carry, and if there is no conqueror

or conquered here, only I
and you, my vanquished,
my victor, my love, then I

will speak to you shlokas
of power and tenderness,
and pray you to speak me

into being, so
for this moment, at least,
I finally can be


Shankar-Narayan_author-photo-1Shankar Narayan explores identity, power, and race in a world where the body is flung across borders yet possesses unrivaled power to transcend them. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a 2016 Fellow at Kundiman and at Hugo House, Shankar draws strength from his global upbringing and from his work as a civil rights attorney. In Seattle, he awakens to the wonders of Cascadia every day, but his heart yearns east to his other hometown, Delhi.