Toward an Unfinished Work III (from “Daughters of Sarkhan”)

Mia Ayumi Malhotra

I am detailing—which is to say: scouring/burnishing—the world I grew up in.
                                                                                                        —Bhanu Kapil

How to write this world. Its tangled jungles, mangrove roots. Its dengues and malarial fevers.

A lost place. A departed place.

Memory is a series of light touches. A burnished sheen. If you touch something repeatedly, it may come back to life.

During the monsoon rains, even the coconut fronds weep. Later, a scorched, red throat—dust everywhere, a rust-colored haze. The stricken city.

You can write this world from the outside: its jungles. Or you can write it from the inside: the spatter of fish sauce, oil over open flame. Eels writhing on the dirt floor of the market.

And even deeper in, from within the sweaty, closed fist of night, buzzing with termites’ jeweled wings. Drunken cicada drone.

Not all memory comes to light when touched. You can stroke a surface repeatedly—the flat surface of a river, for instance, and the only thing that will rise is a handful of bubbles.

This is not the sea we’re talking about, but Mother River. Her droughts, her fickle spells.

Touch the river. Touch it again. Perhaps it will part, or perhaps not. Secrets, memory, secure in her swift folds.

Crumbling steps—red, blue—eroded down a steep embankment.

About the Work

Mia Ayumi Malhotra

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is a Kundiman and VONA/Voices Fellow from the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds an MFA from the University of Washington and serves as the Associate Editor of Lantern Review. Read more at:

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