Megha Rao is a poet who shakes your very foundation. As conventional poetry dictates, and as my preference goes, I have never quite been fond of people ‘capitalizing words’ in order to deliver impact. When I first discovered Megha Rao inculcating that into her poetry, I was surprised by how well I liked it. She is a force to be reckoned with, an unstoppable powerhouse, and an entire movement in herself. Each one of her poems hit home, delicately, carefully, and stay there forever.
Here are excerpts from 12 of her poems that have found a special place in my heart:
Image source: Facebook/Megha Rao
“you told me that nobody could love me
without freezing to death first.
i asked you why you were
leaving, and you
even though i had
windshields for lashes
they couldn’t protect other people
from the rain,
and it never stopped raining.”
I never want anybody to see me at my lowest, lest I should witness their love filter out. We promise each other ‘for better or for worse’, ‘in sickness and in health’, until your back is up against the wall. People bail on you. People leave when the shit hits the stratosphere. For the longest time I was apologetic for my own mind, my feelings, and everything that was unacceptable to people I loved. Now, I know that it may never stop raining in my part of the town, but I don’t need a pretentious teenager to hold the umbrella for me.
“Stretch from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico until a Spanish invasion.
You have your father’s eyes. Beautiful, but always broken into.
Eve of August 15: rape after rape after rape, the time is minutes to
19:47 and your blood is saffron and what’s left of the kitchen is
cabbage and okra and the Khyber rifles at Jamrud. It is the year 2018
and your family is trying to get you to eat without resorting to feeding
tubes because they think private hospitals might steal your kidney…
…You are not your country’s headline. You are not the forced pregnancies
or the state crimes or the journalist’s murder or the leaked documents or
the nepotism. You are not the republic’s hosanna. You are not the slokas.
Or the chakra, because you are not the flag. And you know you are not
the flag because you are too torn to be hoisted.
The therapist asks you, what have you been drinking?
You say Frank O’Hara.”
“Heaven is soundproof”, Megha writes. As the Third World War sits on the fence so close to home, can you deny it? Will any of us ever “survive earth”? We are made synonymous with events that happen in the name of our country, our religion, our gender. We are made of and never allowed to forget about our trauma. As the “jam jar” full of memories rocks back and forth on the therapist’s desk, what chaos are you carrying under your skin?
“to the man I will one day spend my life with…
…i want to be the mother they can cry on. i want to take them to a father who will help them heal safely and encourage them to love again. i want to allow them their secrets, their sexts, their lonely nights, their breaking down with drunk friends, but i want them to be careful. i want to worry for them without being angry. i want to step in only when i think they’ve taken it too far, but i want to allow them their moments of intense emotions.”
It is so important for parents to be soft, and accepting. Don’t just show up to cheer for the important races, but also stand by them when they fall of the trapeze, or get their heart broken. The emotional taboo on youngsters produces constricted adults with unresolved issues.
“in the dining room,
before my brother eats
the last piece of fruit for the day
i tell him, ‘they threw acid on
a young woman today’
and my mother scowls and asks
me why i have to talk about horrible things during dinner time
‘pass me the fish curry,’ my uncle says
and it’s supposed to mean the conversation is over.
‘did you watch modi’s speech on the news?’ my uncle asks papa
‘i love the soup, you have to give me the recipe!’ my aunt tells amma
and two conversations hover over the table and i drag
my body out of the room
before my brother can say
with his mouth full of rice,
‘so just because you talk about
marital rape and sex and periods
you think you’re a feminist?’
sometimes you have
sexism is fun.”
Find me the right time to talk about people dying. Find me the right time of day where it befits me to remind you of the student who killed herself over a B grade. Who are you to set standards for my Feminism? We run by a fire that burns on the screams of our sisters whom you burnt at the stake. There is never a right time for violence, and never a wrong time to start talking about the humanity’s failures.
“i ask him
if he’s ever been
and he says,
“i’m in love with this
old woman who
buys an extra
loaf of bread
for the stray dogs
in our street
so forgetful she
to eat but she
never forgets to
How rare and beautiful is a person who is utterly, unapologetically in love with life? Somebody who ‘wants’ to wake up to the next morning, as opposed to simply ‘having to’. Imagine being strong enough to let your shoulders stoop, sit on a curbside, take off your running shoes, and just watch the world pass by in all its glory. I love people who are not blind to the worlds beyond their own; who look to other human beings as one would to favorite books, stories, and precious memories.
“and i wanted to tell you that
saving myself wasn’t
as beautiful as i made it seem
because there’s nothing beautiful
about a tree
asking the axe to
stay a while longer
or a fishbowl under the
delusion that it can hold
Recovery is messy. Rebounds, disappointment, lonely nights when the calendar keeps flipping backwards. Healing does not feel like a celebration until the healing is well in motion. When I catch a whiff of the scent I once loved, I stop on the road and look around before I can stop myself. Sometimes, I even forget where I am, and only remember when a car speeds by too close for comfort. I’m taking baby steps. We all are. And someday, we’ll get to the top of the mountain and roll this emotional baggage into an unnamed valley.
Suggested read: Dear Writer, Suicide Is Not Poetry
“a 16 year old boy from trivandrum hung himself on july 27 after completing the blue whale challenge
and newspaper headlines screamed ‘SMARTPHONES ARE ADDICTIVE AND INJURIOUS TO KIDS’ and ‘CENTRE CALLS FOR BAN ON THE GAME’
but nobody talks about
his lonely nights in the cemeteries
or how he once asked his mother how she’d feel if he killed himself
and then in the end,
told her that she would still have his sister
his hands sick with cuts
his mind sick with worry
nobody talks about this self harm
or suicidal tendency
because TEENAGE SUICIDE or any suicide for that matter is
and sometimes ‘unreal’
so they tell you to be happy
when you’re so
desperately trying to
be ‘not sad'”
TALK ABOUT SUICIDE. Instead of investing your time and mental energy into gossiping about the circumstances of their ‘affairs’ or ‘financial status’, look around you and find somebody to save. The worst thing you could do to any living thing, is dismiss their struggles as “unimportant”, or “childish”. You know nothing about the torture in somebody else’s head. You could have “been there” and “done that” a million times, but don’t speak like you deserve a fucking trophy for being in more pain than the helpless child confiding in you. We need to get off our high horse, and start helping those who need us, instead of speculating and sending condolences that are not worthy of their name.
“i am the ugly truth
the need for cosmetic surgery and terrifying diets
for breast enlargement and labiaplasty
everything i do is a provocation
i am not the transition to womanhood
i am the commodity manufactured to elicit male desire
the focus on my frame
the sexual victimization
in 21st century pornography.
i am the private part
that destroys the idea of me
as a subject.
i am the bone structure, not the blood.
i know i am supposed to be cheekbones and pink tongues
but i am tan lines
They say that puberty hits women like a truck. In reality, it isn’t the biological process that slaps us, as much as our own self-esteem. We spend nights in high heels, making it look effortless, making it look “natural”, without realizing that we are standing on an iron maiden for the validation we do not need. It is normal for butts to have stretch marks. It is a part of our body, not a marble counter-top we’re cooking our dinner on. Your aspiration should not be the literal representation of a photo-editing app.
“The first man discovered fire
when he saw a woman burning
her tongue to stop her poetry.
All evening, the fire burned on
and I sat in front of it, cross-legged
reading Adam Swift’s political philosophy
and Mending Wall by Robert Frost
my waist no longer a multiplication table
for anyone who demanded that
36 into 24 into 36 equals hourglass;
my eyes no longer a testimony to
the twelve-year-old who said she went to
school for ten days until she had to stop
because there was no one to collect cartons
to support her family in Kabul.”
Why do genitals dictate worth? Why does the female brain not ‘deserve’ or thought ‘incapable’ of housing the genre of knowledge attributed to men? Why is it that when I say ‘astrophysics’, you think of a male scientist, while ‘sewing’ reminds you of a woman? We are a country of people dying in the quicksand of gender roles. It is high time that daughters stopped paying for their existence with their dreams.
“the first time i tried on a corset in a dingy goth shop i asked the saleswoman who would ever wear these things and
she said the 14 inch waist was advertised in 19th century fashion magazines
so the victorians walked like they couldn’t breathe and deformed their ribcage and
chinese girls bound their feet so that they would look like lotuses and it didn’t matter if folding your toes was painful
i still remember how in venice women were rushing to buy eye drops made from belladonna to get dilated pupils even if it meant blurring your vision
but i’ll be damned if belladonna was also used by witches in their potions
and if i see another corset i’d hang it in the prado next to goya’s paintings with a tagline that says this masterpiece was able to brainwash a generation of women into thinking their goal was to have a slim waist
AND I WON’T BIND MY FEET MY FEET AREN’T MEANT TO BE BOUND THEY ARE MEANT TO CARRY ME TO MY DREAMS”
Megha Rao tears European standards of beauty like it’s her staple diet. How can you not be angry with tightly spun, heavily ornamental, grievously artificial idea of you that the world stuffs into their pockets? I am offended that multi-million dollar companies believe that I have to choose between breathing or looking ‘flawless’. If my hips overflow the boundaries of your ‘preference’, then you can clear out of my line of vision. Anybody who makes me cringe at the mirror, is unwelcome in my life.
“Your love was
to the Mona Lisa in a
three bedroom apartment
at 6 am in the morning.
Your love, Marquez
arguing through the night
as Marilyn curled up in a sofa
wearing a t-shirt that screamed
My therapist says,
there will come a time
when I don’t think about
overdosing to Arcade Fire.
When my eyes don’t look like
concentration camps Anne Frank
was transported to in Germany.
My therapist tells me,
there is more to me
and I want to believe her.
So I hope your new girlfriend
loves your mother
as much as I do.”
How do you reconcile with having a world tear into two different parts? How can I not think of the palms I once loved, the lines of which I swore I could read forever. How can anybody forget the family they had to suddenly stop visiting? Something stirs us one night, and we remember that it is their birthday tomorrow. We subconsciously remove ourselves from habits and things they liked, hoping to forget it. The human mind is a mysterious device. It never quite allows peace.
“and you said
sometimes we have to give up our favourite books because we’ll never grow if we don’t read other books
and as we grow older our favourite books change from time to time
it doesn’t mean that book isn’t lovely anymore
and you said to me,
‘i hope its next reader loves it as much as i did’
and your favourite book was on your lap
but you closed it shut and i looked at you and i was crying
but the spaces between us grew
t h e r e w e r e n o w o r d s l e f t t o s a y a n y m o r e
and i wanted to
ask you why nobody
folded the last page
of their favourite book
or any book for that matter
but you were already gone
to the end
Goodbyes are never easy. No matter how many pages you fill with words dripping from your eyes, the message never seems to be enough. I still send unfinished letters into the air. I have made my peace with accepting that my book will never quite see an end. I have made my peace with writing into the void, knowing that I will always have something more left to say.
Megha performs spoken-word poetry, writes for Terribly Tiny Tales, uploads her beautiful work on Facebook and Tumblr, where she can be followed @barela
Featured image source: Facebook/Megha Rao