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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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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.


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.   


For Parmjeet

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

                     pistoned fury


dragging the scent of sandalwood

to the earth’s crimson core

devouring the ਇੱਜ਼ਤ   izzat honour



that outweighed your short life


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

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