Moni Brar (she/her) was born in rural India, raised in British Columbia, and now lives as a settler on the unceded territories of the Treaty 7 Region (Calgary). She has multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations, earned the 2021 SAAG Arts Writing Prize and was runner-up in PRISM international’s Grouse Grind Prize. Her writing appears in The Literary Review of Canada, Prairie Fire, The New Quarterly, Passages North and Hobart, among others, exploring the immigrant experience, diasporic guilt, and religious violence. Inspired by writers who work towards decolonizing Western identity/culture/gender frameworks, Brar believes art contains the possibility of healing. Instagram: @monibrar
After the Aftermath of Text
I came here to complete a thing I began in another place. —Bhanu Kapil
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On mobile please turn phone to landscape and enlarge.
PEACH PLUM PEAR
I am directed by rootlessness. —Dionne Brand
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My mother’s hands are as big as baskets. They pluck things so easily.
Forefinger to thumb, press and release. Automatic, past fatigue.
They know how to gather up every seed and stem,
every leaf and shoot, every precious particle known to poverty.
On foreign land, they learn how to pick new things, how to cup
the heaviness of a peach, stave off fingertip bruises. How to twist
blushing orbs from crooked branches, pull warmth from leafy shadows.
I watch trees burn like incense sticks. Slender plumes curl
into corners of the sky, compete with the clouds, the throb
of hot air. I see towering ponderosa crumble. The flash and fall
of straight-spined spruce, strappy firs lit like matchsticks. Limp larch
and sappy pines send up a smoky SOS to the heavens. What remains
on earth: charred bark, anthracite knots, discarded needles, the stubble
of blackened grass. The gaping lips of abandoned nests. An unkind wind
carries heat, singes plum trees, offers up hot sizzle, honeyed scent.
The gods are internally displaced shapeshifters setting up camp
in the small of my back, making me arch in vain. They weave
through branches, wheedle for more time with a tender tone,
pitch their tents in the soft creases behind my mother’s knees, buckle
and bend her to their will. They grind her down to gritty white flesh
of green pear. She folds in the slipping shade, as they part
her eyelashes to peer out at this diluted, uprooted world.
THE FATE OF THE ETERNALLY DISPLACED
i. Listen for the beacon. It will be faint during the day but pulse distinctly at night. That’s how you’ll know you’re still here and that each breath matters. In and out. There is something burgeoning in your rib cage. You don’t need to give it a name. It will ripen, then decay. Rot. Your bones know this: they don’t fight back.
ii. You wonder what happened to Harminder, will always wonder. The last time you saw her she looked happy, sounded happy but you’re not sure because you’re equally good at deceiving your own emotions. Small smile, chiclet teeth. She was working as a cashier at Safeway. Safe. In many ways. Independent. You hope she survived, dream she did.
iii. Driving on the Trans-Canada Highway is the best kind of therapy. Music on, bad thoughts parked until you restart them. Remember to pay attention to the green signs along the road. In big white letters, they shout the English names for these ancient lands. Stolen lands. A tarmac ribbon from sea to bloody shining sea. The green signs will tell you things you may have forgotten, point to places you may want to visit. Wildlife corridor. Drive with care. Scan the edges for signs of life and be prepared to stop abruptly for animals both small and large. They deserve at least that much from you.
iv. Stop wrestling with the notion of kal and accept that it can mean both tomorrow and yesterday. Accept that you now live in the land where the present is paramount. Nod and smile when people ask you if you’re good at living in the moment. Pretend you know what this means and don’t tell them that there is so much more than this moment. That you have existed in the past and are unsure if you can make it to the future.
v. Don’t make eye contact with the babas and bibis in the elevator. Look away from their buckets, mops, and brooms. Their tired brown hands. Their dignity. The cleaning cart with its wastebasket overflowing with corporate memos and greasy fast-food containers. Make eye contact with the bibi and tell her you saw a movie where a woman rides away on a broom. Maybe her broom has the same power. She could escape these night shifts, urinal scrubbings, brutal winters, basement suites and return to saffron fields. Sun-ripened guava.
vi. You have never been on the SS Komagata Maru, so why do you remember what it smelled like? The extension of collective memory. That Smell of salt and cedar, of mold, and fear. The extension of fear. Exclusion. You never set foot aboard, but you can feel the coolness of the planks on deck. Sometimes, you feel the jab of a splinter in the ball of your foot. Your feet are unmoored, aching to chart postcolonial trajectories.
WOMAN AS TRACTOR AS GOD II
I envision your departure as fierce
that you ran headlong
into his hate
that you were ruthless
like Varuna, you were The Punisher
that you drove your body machine
into the soft dark
into the rows of green vigour
past empty nests teetering
on corroded wire
that you bound soil to sea to sky
upending ripe decay
and bled soil
I dream you were unforgiving
as a swallow diving
to its death
like Kali, you were The Demon
as you plowed through this soft earth
seeded your love in its loam
and the soft skin of voles
your metallic might
dragging the scent of sandalwood
to the earth’s crimson core
devouring the ਇੱਜ਼ਤ izzat honour
that outweighed your short life
ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY SISTER'S DEATH
this casual interrogation by every stranger in every elevator
or the weight of water cooler chitchat
is not something easily dismissed
I have no ties to a village that offered me up
to an unknown world
but will forever be saddled with it as my place of origin
the morning air outside my window asks me
if I can discern whether it is dew or frost sparkling on the grass
I have intimate knowledge of both
I keep your small wooden knife in the cutlery drawer
imagine the endless shearing of vegetable from stalk
the ache in your hands from small movements of a repetitive task
a body learning to accept the bite of cold
the horizontal dashes on a tree’s surface are pores called lenticels
they remind me that I too must breathe
maybe each year on this day I should eat cake
instead of slashing through the pain
trying to plant a flag in its path