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Urvashi Bahuguna


In Search of Lice and Love

In Sickness & in Health

An Indian Girl's Guide To Driving


Of chasing a crab that scuttles out of a kitchen sink, 
only one woman in this house knows anything.

Steel tongs in brown hand – the kind that have the grip
of a schoolyard boy holding another boy’s starched collar,

the grip of a cook lifting a vat of boiling tea, fingers
and checked washcloth curled around the lip –

she chases the crab, and with the reflexes of a woman
who has lived longer & through more change,

who was born when it wasn’t normal to not see a snake
till you went on vacation, she closes the wide yawn

of the tongs around the crab’s green-blue back & carries
it back, all four legs still parting the air & drops it into a hot

pot, wiping the sweat off her brow with the edge of her saree,
proud & dismissive of our collective amazement.

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In Search of Lice and Love

Long after it was plausible, I kept asking my sister
to check my hair for lice. She required ample light.

She needed for me to hold my head still as she sifted
through my roots for tiny eggs that made a cracking

sound when she killed them with her nails. This was
when we were small. When schoolyard germs were

passed around like birthday candy. As we got older, she       
protested Where would you have gotten them? At night I never

wanted the loop of her leg over mine. My scalp the only
place I allowed to be touched. My head in the sheets

and my sister’s fingers extracting white flakes & tugging
at a stray silver hair like a horse galloping through a quiet

moor. Let my hair be the rope I use to draw tenderness
out of our clumsy pair like out of an old, determined well.

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In Sickness & in Health

When my body reaches for & does
not arrive, my girlfriends hold

me as their own in a portico
of light welding into possibility. 

One is young. we sleep with string
on a small bed like siblings. 

One has a heart like a canoe & a 
house with a constricted staircase.

I creak down in the mornings
to find her with tea, readying

the toast to hold together the day.
One is older & knows how to leave

a place without guilt, trusts me 
with a canvas & paint: there is nothing

wrong you can do. When telling a vein
from an illusion, a jacaranda from

a stub is beyond my powers, this is
their work: to lift a dropped stitch, 

to move the needle tediously forward, 
looping detail in yarn till I am ready. 

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An Indian Girl's Guide To Driving

If you have a weakness, my driving instructor quips,
it is that you are full of fear. What I hear is half-parent,

half-poem. My father and sister stand slack-jawed staring
at our wrecked car. (They are like a slow-motion movie).

I nose-dive into action – push the fender back into the
exposed mouth of our car. I can hear the slap of desert

wind against my cape. Nothing makes me forgive people
like learning I have something to teach them. How unlikely

they will remember that dust-up in Tijara like I do. Metaphor,
my therapist offers, is central to moving forward. Ignition.

Accelerate. Let go. How embarrassingly simple, yet I stall
the car in five lane traffic. I am a stutter stuck mid-throat

one hundred cars honking at me to just spit it out. I picked
the wrong season to learn – distracted by the red daggers

of silk cotton trees, the fists of dust storms whirling across
the windshield. In India, there is a part-myth about bad women

drivers I am desperate to disprove. I want to drive like my father
fast, steady, fearless in roadside brawls. No matter how soft I cradle

the steering wheel, I know I am tentacled around it. Fear is as
natural to me as spit. All I want is to be swashbuckling,

to reign my fear with the sweep of a seatbelt, to have my dashboard
light up like a siren, to make my own way through the world.

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Urvashi Bahuguna’s debut poetry collection, Mudscope, was selected for the 2017 Emerging Poet’s Prize by Aimee Nezhukumatathil and will be published in 2018 by The Great Indian Poetry Collective.  Her work has been recognized by a Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship, a Sangam House fellowship, an Eclectica Spotlight Author Prize, and a TOTO Award for Creative Writing.  Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Orion, SOFTBLOW, The Nervous Breakdown, Eclectica Magazine, The Fourth River, Barely South Review, Kitaab, Jaggery, The Four Quarters Magazine and elsewhere.  She was awarded an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom in 2014. She grew up in Goa, and currently lives and works in Delhi.

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