--since then my heart has uttered a subliminal chanting between each breath, shrieking like a dog's silent high-pitch whistle: forget-me-not forget-me-not forget-me-not forget-me-not
Forget-me-not. A girl that loves to sing mama, he's making eyes at me, sitting on Papa's lap saying, Papa's got big legs. Then giving my dolly a haircut because Ma is a hairdresser. And I wear a white shirt with a range of orange and green flowers which I punch holes in, not because I don't like the shirt, but to see what it feels like to create one's own ventilation.
Dirt roads and marble floors,
Cracks in cement.
Dadi tells us stories of Gods and Goddesses human except for blue skin, eight arms or trunk. And she teaches us how to twist our tongues into native sounds. Uh-aah, e-ee, oo-ooo.
Forget-me-not. Across the street, Joanie teaches me how to ride a bike. Just sit on and roll down the hill and your feet will hit the metal to pedal. Christine would play and fight and play. Joanie's dad helps us find a house that is a golden color like mother's 76 Chevy Nova. I almost don't recognize him, although I recognize the chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen.
My desk looks like a school teacher's - wooden, one drawer in the middle, where I keep my Bubble gum pink diary writing: Today I ate two burritos. Yesterday I played in the backyard.
Kate is the only white that comes close. Others resist at my brown. On the playground my feelings match the gray steel of the swings. But Kate isn't afraid to touch me. She wants my life and my God that has hair like Michael Jackson. From Kate I learn that American mothers like to walk in their home with only a T-shirt and underwear. That divorce makes a brother a petty thief. Real moms wrap themselves like Christmas presents, in a life called "my own." I learn that kids could be parcels mailed back and forth.
Brown girl, go home! In the third grade, we are sitting on a gray industrial looking carpet watching a movie on fire safety. A girl whispers in my ear, Danny Love wants to marry you, but he asks every girl.
Brown girl, go home! And I say fuck you! We are at the principal's office, because one of them is assaulting me on my color assaulting him. Well, she said fuck you! I look at the principal earnestly, saying, How could I say a thing like that, when I don't know what it means?
Cathy becomes my friend, so that she can make Lisa jealous, we go to the drug store and buy candy. Then we go to her house and listen to Billy Joel sing. Lisa tries to curl my coconut-oiled hair, she has no dad and wears a key around her neck.
I still love school: Writing a report on a kibbutz in Israel which I copy from Grandfather's encyclopedia, telling everyone I am a future oceanographer. And then I'm on stage, singing: I'll Be Your Candle on the Water, and Kids Are Made for Fun, and I'm Feeling Upbeat Real Sweet, before running to take my seat in the school orchestra where Russian composers hum through my viola. The class clown at the talent competition sings This land is my land, it isn't your land, I've got a shot gun and you don't got one and I learn it word for word, as America's anthem.
With my fingers I make a deer-face, a lotus, a flag with three stripes, an umbrella of falling flowers. I try to move my neck side to side, like a wooden doll with a broken head. I try. While others dance, I also sing. Songs about God. God with fuzzy-wuzzy hair. God with skin so blue. Hindu gospel. Hinduspeak. Hopes written out in incense and fruit.
Forget-me-not. I am the American girl. The un-American brown Indian girl. The first day of school and I am dressed in a pale pink shirt and black flared skirt. The rest of them are dressed in uniforms, white and blue, like sea foam. We have a new girl in our class from 'The States' the teacher announces, in her richly scented voice, with stretched O's and smooth R's. Slowly I re-learn how to be brown. How to prove I know who I am and that I can prove it. And it is not a color. In this land of color I have to put that aside. The jeans, the t-shirts with American logos, the accent, the music, the posters of Boy George and George Michael, the cassette with the Thompson Twins singing Doctor, Doctor, can't you see I'm burning.
So they laugh when I say fast and past without the ah sound. They snigger at my baggy jeans that really live up to the name baggy. And yet they beg me to sing pop songs, and to break dance, my Michael Jackson moonwalk on the desert dirtied stone floor lighting up their eyes, and the lyrics of white people making them sigh.
We exchange a song for a song, like the jingle of silver bangles.
Shikha Malaviya is the publisher and editor of Monsoon Magazine, a journal of South Asian literature and culture. Her poetry has been published in Conspire, Gravity, Impossible Object, Riding the Meridian, and other journals. She recently completed a manuscript of poetry focusing on her experiences as a South Asian immigrant woman, and is working on a second poetry manuscript as well as a novel.