Please Check Who’s Inhabiting This Body | Ashley Somwaru
My grandmother tucks her body into a casket once a week. Olbas oil hangs in the air, gathering wisps of her that crowd around the ceiling fan, dulling the light’s tint from a dawn sun to a cloudy afternoon. An uncle continues to pour his drink. The chik chik chik of karila crescent mooning into the silver bowl never pauses from an aunt’s hands.
I watch her buzz around, looking for a crack in the window, circling to the dresser mirror, and then zipping back to the burgundy curtains. The last time she did this, she flew around for the duration of a plane lifting off from Georgetown and landing haphazardly in JFK during a blizzard.
The sound of an ambulance can cry down the street, but it would never come for the body we knock on every day, just to make sure we don’t need to stack her with the other hollow logs. Limacol and camphor oil are doctors instead. Or a coconut broom to sweep my grandmother back into open eyes. When a sigh is all that can respond to a mother fled, I think about Sutphin Avenue, the woman who spread her arms wide. Aye mere maalik was a burst fire hydrant that flowed out of her throat so powerfully, it struck me in the chest.
Sometimes, I wish to tell others that there’s another woman inside of me. The one who left her body in an armchair, followed my brother home, and pushed herself in through my breath. Sometimes, she curls my fingers as if reaching out to grab something only she can see.
Years ago, a man laughed in our college introduction course to Hinduism and said, what is the point of Sita? She doesn’t do anything. She just lets herself get stolen.
There’s a rum shop somewhere in Penal. My grandfather’s truck. A woman who lived upstairs.
At the urgent care, the nurse paused. I’ll just put other. And I thought she really sees me.
In these moments, I whisper maalik, wonder when sound will choose to rupture from me.
Electric currents of the heart can be blocked by words unsaid. Or a woman trying to use your body as her own. The other day, a man tripped, opening the lifeline on his palm to the shattered bottle littered on our sidewalk and I reached out to lick.
Once, when my grandmother was taking too long to come back, an uncle called a pandit, ready to do her rites.
The woman inside me plucks the nerves in my legs like guitar strings. I wonder who showed her how to break a body.
It takes breaking for a woman to decide to leave her body, to look for others to inhibit. A woman who buries her child. A woman with a torn nose. A woman whose jewelry was stolen and given to her in-laws. A woman whose husband bedded another woman who might live above the rum shop. A woman who was kidnapped and forced into a forest where no one listens to her cries. A woman thrown out of her home. A woman who wished to tie her husband’s feet together so she could run. A woman who was never given lines to speak. A woman belted. A woman who leaks blood and needs the blood of others to survive. A woman named rakshasi. A woman named other.
The nurse told me while she was worrying over my heart, all the decisions I’ve made have made me who I am. So I went home and didn’t call the pandit, unready to exile the woman who keeps tying my veins around her fingers.
As I stare at my grandmother still airborne, I want to open a window. I want to find a coconut broom.
I sigh. These days, I knock on my chest.
Someone knocks back.
Ashley Somwaru is an Indo-Caribbean woman who was born and raised in Queens, New York. She received an MFA in poetry from Queens College, CUNY. Somwaru has recently published a chapbook in 2021 titled, "Urgent \\ Where The Mind Goes \\ Scattered." Previous work has been published in Angime, A Gathering Together, Newtown Literary, Pacific Review, Solstice Magazine, VIDA Review, and elsewhere. She currently serves as the Assistant Editor for Best of the Net.