Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Spence School, New York, NY
Educator: Sara Beasley
father, once son; Color Wheel
father, once son
My father’s fingers swallow the wood
as they massage chunks of tomato
oozing bubbled blood into the skin
of unpeeled onions, crinkling
like the newspaper he buries his dark
nose into each morning, festooned
with little brown bindis. My father
does not know how to cook anything
save his own body—thick with lassi,
mother’s milk, fermented. Cow’s breast
blending with thighs of chicken, choked
with cardamom. Animals forget how to walk
when far from home. My father lifts spoon
to mouth and wraps lips around hot metal
marred by the taste of Indian blood. He kisses
the congeries of his memory. Little brown boy
on step stool, bare chest burnt by red sun.
Mother of no daughters grinding nutmeg
against stone, recipes against bone.
This pallid emptiness, skin sinking into itself—
sun cannot catch me, burn sleek leather.
I am pink in the wrong places, less color
than my neighbors, less heat, less human.
My color is dying. My cheeks bleach
into canvas, naked with absence of inspiration.
I want to be painted, covered, want the black
holes under my eyes to blend out over
the surface of skin, not ooze into the hollows
of thin, curved bone. I don’t want your eyes
following the refracting moonlight reflecting
off my clavicle. I don’t want you to see
that even the night won’t survive if it sleeps
on my body. There is life echoing through
the gelid veins of cold marble, and all I ask
is that you press your thumb into the inside
of my elbow and search for the dull pulse.
It’s there. Forget that the chapped ivory
of my skin has a different name because
I am not white.
Half-Asian but as pale as sandless beaches
in the Arctic. The Indian blood in me
is confused. But my name betrays me.
My father has branded me with a memento
of quiet Otherness. I will continue to whiten
as my body begins to become bored
with the world—hair, nails, skin.
My name will darken.