“I Don’t Quite Know What to Think of You, Mother” by Meera Jhala

Meera Jhala


Miracles are cotton candy; that much I know.
They said you cured cancer with beams of light
but that’s the domain of cyclotrons.

Christ called to you, you say. Funny, that.
I’ve seen how gravity bends body bags into a limp “U”,
the day turning up open hands as if to say “no life inside,
no miracles here.” And I have cried to the universe to
explain, or at least to take me too. But I never understood,
and I haven’t died, and when the days shrugged on in silence,
I learned that deities don’t do speed dial, and that anyone
who says they were called is probably making that up.

You took India as your mother, and like a good daughter
served her. Me? I am just a birth daughter; an impostor,
brown on the outside but planted on foreign soil,
fertilized with foreign air and chicken McNuggets.
And even so, upon reading that you baptized Hindu dying,
told them that your God was holier than ours,
my chameleon blood turned saffron.

There in the City of Joy, they sit outside temples;
eyes missing, or a foot; sores suppurating, mouths gaping
like baby birds’. When I passed, I gave them bread
and the contents of my pockets, and a year later
from my air-conditioned house made some five-click
donations to charitable organizations and told myself
I was a nice person.

I didn’t give them my life like you did, Mother.

Poets Respond
March 20, 2016

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Meera Jhala: “This week, the pope announced that Mother Teresa would become a saint. The announcement reawakened many mixed feelings that people have about her.” (website)

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