Turning Words

When I was the height of the table leg,
eye to eye with Indian elephants, 
jasmine flowers climbing the sheesham wood 
of my dad’s childhood, I tried to turn my tongue 
around his Tamil, thumbi little brother, 
thungachi my sister, but didn’t know

the kneedeep kneedeep calls of purple frogs 
that sent him to sleep each night or the thwack 
of stick on bush as his pudgy legs roamed
all the way to the cud where rivers fell 
off the side of the earth into thick clouds 
of shola forest and spirits below. 

Now I ache for those sounds, to hear his fine 
English vowels transform to the palate-flick, 
the glottal rasp of his past; to hear consonants 
flitting round his mouth as if they’re water striders 
dancing, their spindly legs notching
the surface like time, just for a moment.

Winner of First Prize in the 2021 Cheltenham Festival Poetry Prize


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