“Hymn for the Damned” by Kalpana Pandey

Kalpana Pandey


I learnt my hymns with my alphabets, 
I learnt that gods are supposed to save me. 
My grandmother told me gods are powerful; 
you won’t be able to look them in the eye 
if you ever saw one.
She said kneel in front of yours
and close your eyes, 
leave everything up to him, 
and that’s how the sun sets on the toughest of days. 
When I came out to her,
she started praying fervently 
the same way she did 
when my parents told her they’d be separating, 
She said what she told my mother when she was packing her bags, 
Only God can save you. 
Love has four letters, 
and so does Pray, 
and if I were damned doing one 
and saved by the other, 
I’d rather love my god, 
and get over with it at once.
My boy looks like her blue god, 
and he forces me to look in his eyes. 
Every night I kneel in front of him, 
and my hands and mouth pray.
My grandmother has her god built in stone, 
and her idea of purity is written in rigid letters 
all over her existence.
Mine is built of the first of the ocean waves 
and a third of the warmth on May mornings.
But on some days,
when we lay down together 
and my childhood covers us like a blanket, 
I feel a sudden stillness to myself, 
and my chest opens up and I look for answers, 
but I don’t remember the questions, 
just the general unease they always leave behind.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets


Kalpana Pandey: “I wrote this poem when I was seventeen. In hindsight, all I can think of is, how did I not know I was queer back then? I look at it now and I want to hold the face of the person who was typing this fervently in her phone and tell them it’s not their fault. Being in India, you have a society around you which is established upon a foundation of heteronormative patriarchal standards and regulations which strike all aspects of your lives and identities. I have a privileged position in society because of my caste and the everpresent caste system that keeps justifying these evil beliefs, but I also know being a woman and being a part of the LGBTQ society puts me a few steps behind my contemporaries, which is equally vile. I hope I can help eradicate these prejudices, via my words and actions. In today’s world, everything is political, and if you are quiet, you are usually always on the perpetrator’s side. If my orientation can be a radical statement against the status quo, then so be it. But to shy away from all of this for a moment and to think of myself, all I want to do is keep writing; because that’s how I know I am not alone, and that’s how I apologise, and that’s how I allow myself to be seen.” (web)

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