“The Valley of Headstones” by Kuhu Joshi

Kuhu Joshi


I am Hindu. They’ll likely burn me
and my ashes will float on a river

unless they are heavy enough to sink.

I still have balm for my feet and arms, separate,
and one for my lips.

When I was diagnosed, the doctor said
my spine would twist and curve
till I stopped growing.

When Nanaji broke his skull on the road
the doctor said he would breathe
till he didn’t.

In Lauterbrunnen, I saw my name
on an empty headstone

in the valley where mountains
met each other. Steep mountains,
growing straight up the earth. 

There were many headstones.
Fog was moving in, its shadow
on some of the headstones, while the others
were white and sunny.

My brother’s hair was curling from the moisture.
We saw flowers—red and pink Swiss blooms.

My brother took a photo of me.

In the background, a family 
sitting at the picnic table.

The boy eating a bar of cheese,
the girl making rings in the grass
with her pink skirt. The mother 
tearing bread, the father 
calling the girl back.

Nothing felt wrong—we all belonged.

My brother took out two pears from his knapsack, waiting
for the family to finish
so we could take their table.

Mum and Dad would have waited too.
It wouldn’t be right to sit on the grass
beside the headstones.

My body did not want to be burnt. 

But there were no other sounds,
only the quiet the people made

under the earth, the family
chewing cheese and bread,

and us, waiting.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets


Kuhu Joshi: “My palette is large and multitudinous; it stretches in every direction, like Krishna’s mouth.”(web)

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