©2019 by Nisha Patel.
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"CHAI LATTE"

nisha patel

the girl in the green apron
asks what she can get me today.
before I can wipe the white froth of privilege from my lips
like a rabid stray, i foam out the words "chai tea latte"

the girl in the green apron asks for a name
to stain inky the white casket where she will brew my bloodlines
into something more palatable for seventh­-generation tongues.
before I can sprinkle my cinnamon­dust syllables into her hands
the spice of an entire ocean settles like caravan into my lungs.
my name claws its way up throat
like it was thrown down a well,
stepping on the heads of ancestors
who drowned themselves to escape British bullets
waiting at the entrance to my mouth.

i show the girl in the green apron
how hesitation has split my tongue in two
like branches on a silk road
like veins on a tea leaf
like, like
like birthright and immigrant's dream,
but there is no ground on Canadian soil
fertile enough for growing both contradiction and surrender.

i wonder which story she will mix into my cup:
that of my father's family­-fishing­village-­turned-­autobody-­labourer
or my mother's city­-girl­-university­-degree­ turned­immigrant­-fry­cook.
i wonder what this chai tea will taste like now that
my taste buds have grown to stand straight­-backed
instead of plantation­,
bent like white picket fence. 

the girl in the green apron expects a tip.
i slip her the change i will not spare myself

and hope that the metallic sound of payment
will mask the clanking of chained wrists
echoing through generations.
freedom should taste like whipped cream, she says,
but forgets to mention that freedom costs extra.

the girl in the green apron
wants to know how i take my sugar.
how many bodies can you fit into a teaspoon? i say
which canes touched salted skin before
crystallizing for my pleasure?
i know it will be sweet enough
to almost mask the taste of guilt and cardamom,
that the scent of cloves will travel like my grandfather's breath
up my nostrils and into the
the memory of muscles that never stopped aching.

the girl in the green apron
slips cardboard sleeve around my cup like noose.
the latte sitting between us
is full of compromise.
i feel my mother's bones in my hands bend around it's frail neck,
cradling the warmth of my indulgence and shame. 

these days, my mother's chai is too strong for me.
but I know that even this
will burn my tongue. 

"TRAGEDY(S)"

nisha patel
for las vegas

i keep waiting for the sun to come out

not the yellow-shadow-caress,

not the soaking whisper,

no.
i am waiting for the burn of irrevocable black,

of promises darkly kept,

the dust of demolition that settles on the bones

from which they evaporated

coating our tongues with words like

thoughts & prayers

that taste so little of love

that i have to wonder if the unmelinated

are capable of joy

the way we who sing shadow-song are capable

of hurt & still i wonder.

i wonder when action started living

in my blood,

threatening too often to spill itself

i cannot look away from this sun,

this hear that is seeking to destroy us,

disguised in the words of the self-declared gentle,

the clear-tap-water tears

that lack even the heft of grief to make change

in a world that lays open

& overflowing for

them.