Raj Bhargava, Honorable Mention
There is nobody who knows the names of
all the different types of dal. Dal, a word
that begins with the same tongue flick as
thank you, grandma, for turning over the dal
in your rough palms and soft fingers as you
describe all of the different kinds of dal.
I remember masoor, the brown dal, my favorite,
and moong, green as the fields I imagine
it came from; arhar, thousands of tiny little suns
glowing inside a pressure cooker, growing with
the background whistle that countermelodies
the song of a people’s fragmented sun.
People come and go, drawn in by promises of chai,
their feet following their hearts, memories stepping in
the path of ginger, of milk, of soft, crushed leaves;
shoes are partitioned, slipped off onto an embroidered doormat,
leaving only feet, small, wide, tanned, weary,
to embrace the ground with respect just as the
unconsciously thrown spices kiss the bubbling oil
with the love of a mother and her wide-eyed son.
Gods come and go, blessing each individual doorstep
by the candles flickering in the windows, the red rangoli
shaped into letters on the wall, the fruits and nuts and laddoos
tributes to happiness, undefinable, unforgettable.
Often I imagine what my dreams would remember
if I grew up where my ancestors built families
the way roads are built in this land of grocery stores.
If everyone around me loved haldi—turmeric—curry powder,
with its unashamed presence and haunting aroma.
I did not know I was supposed to hate the smell
that was my family, my people, my home.
For pretending to love the taste of something else is murder
against the bonds that connect me to my history.
I love the haldi that makes everything yellow, the spices
that mean nobody else understands. I do. I love the roti
that your hands so lovingly fold. I do. I love the dal that slips
through your tired, undefeated fingers, I love you
for sacrificing everything for me. I love you. I do.