Elegy with “Exotics”
Your mother lost one job and then another.
We swayed to late-night slack-key in the yard,
clearing up the 40s for her William, Kimo, then her Jack.
Smashed white orchids chased us under stars.
There was nothing to notice but you—
I knew the names of all the flowers.
We lay on our backs, could hear
the way the green grew fast, the wind
in palms, the light-quick feet
of chickens roosting in a rusting car.
Now and then a rat in the bananas
made us laugh. Who was there to be
exotic to? The rows of ti? The teal
paint peeling on the out-buildings?
Now and then a Jack or Kimo cutting hala
in his undershirt, now and then your mother
dancing on the lawn with a lit cigarette?
Yes, you tried to stitch me a dress of hibiscus.
Yes, you placed a mountain apple,
one over each of my eyes.
We carried home the beach in secret—
sand in our teeth, salt in our scalps,
skin like two sharks, our figure 8s,
our scars flared up and made flushed patterns.
Kirun Kapur’s latest collection, Women in the Waiting Room, was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and is out now from Black Lawrence Press (2020). She was the winner of the Arts & Letters Rumi Prize in Poetry and the Antivenom Poetry Award for her first book, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist (Elixir Press, 2015). Named an “Asian-American poet to watch” by NBC News, her work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares and many other journals. She has taught creative writing at Boston University and Brandeis University, and has been granted fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Vermont Studio Center and MacDowell Colony. Kirun serves as poetry editor at The Drum Literary Magazine and currently teaches at Amherst College. She grew up between Honolulu and New Delhi and now lives north of Boston.