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Vandana Khanna


Vandana Khanna 
My Mother at JFK

Tries to pick up the cadence
      of the immigration officer's

intonations, blurry and abstract--
      quick turns of the tongue

stroke the air with all the bustle
      and weariness of this new world:

its thick accents and alleyways,
      gypsy cabs and jazz.

She learned English watching
      Audrey Hepburn movies where

every sigh sounded like music.
      Clearly annunciated vowels

and consonants stood stiff
      as sugar cane, as the British

nuns who taught her, who
      rapped their speech across

her knuckles. At night, she
      wants to wrap the cough

and sputter of scooters,
      the low moan of oxen

around her like her mother's
      shawl, but she can't hold back

the sheer demand of horns
      and sirens, of America

seeping through her mind,
      until her body throbs

and pulses with its rhythm
      and rhyme. It makes her ears

ache, makes her forget a mantra
      about new rivers and old gods.


The Blessed

Back when we belonged
only to ourselves
but didn't know it,

when dust coiled
around our ankles
with every step

we took away from
the front door, when
our breath still smelled

of raw milk, our ears hurt
with stories slipped
through the thin seam

of our mothers' mouths,
tales that could char
tongues to a black soot.

Our mothers who were
too scared to swim or curse
or drive, bent us with their worry:

half a world away, brides
were lit like torches,
thrown from kitchen

windows for their dowries--
kerosene-soaked saris
flared like a brilliant sore

in the bleached sky.
Their words bit away at us
with their tea-stained teeth.

Even in our innocent,
American kitchens
the steel-tipped stove

stood bright, ominous--
made us shudder
like a broken wing.
We were blessed--
our fate consecrated
by an unlit match,

our minds, a pot boiling over
with the salt and steam
of all we couldn't imagine.


Madame Destiny

At eighteen, we drove out
      of Philly, shook free
          of creased skirts, legal pads.
                Charmed by quarter slots,

ten dollar palm readings,
      sand-grit tonguing the burnt
          cove of our ears. Our ankles
                salted and skimmed by sea foam.

Inside, Madame Destiny
     murmured into our hands,
          chanting our bad luck away:
                unaligned stars and ex-boyfriends,

phantom mothers-in-law.
      The only boys we met,
           with crew cuts
                and wrong-colored eyes

thought us tourists
      and we played along
           as they leapt from one
                hotel balcony to the next, flexing.

Their mouths traced
      the lines of shadow
          and light on our skin.
                We forgot our destinies

the matchmaker's list
      of names, a humid curse
          breathed into our ears, hard
                as the ocean's slap at our backs.

Against all prophecies
      and promises, our crooked
          love lines frayed at the ends
                like jeans. Our hope

turned stale as a Hindi
      pop song-gone
          in the flick and bruise
                of a blue bar light.

                              -from Afternoon Masala


Poems - Bio - Review - Interview

Born in New Delhi, India and raised in Falls Church, Virginia, Vandana Khanna earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and her MFA from Indiana University, where she was the recipient of the Yellen Fellowship in poetry. Her first collection, Train to Agra, won the Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize and her second collection, Afternoon Masala, was the co-winner of the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize. Vandana’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in journals such as Crazyhorse, Callaloo, The Missouri Review, 32 Poems and The Indiana Review, as well as the anthologies Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation and Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry. She has taught English and Creative Writing at colleges and universities across the country including Indiana University, Pitzer College and the University of Southern California.


Poems - Bio - Review - Interview

A review of Khanna's Afternoon Masala at TAB: The Journal of Poetry and Poetics


Poems - Bio - Review - Interview

                         An interview with Vandana Khanna at Connotation Press

Click here to buy Khanna's books

Vandana Khanna

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