Mia Ayumi Malhotra

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of Notes from the Birth Year, winner of the Bateau Press BOOM Chapbook Contest, and Isako Isako, a California Book Award finalist and winner of the Alice James Award, the Nautilus Gold Award, a National Indie Excellence Award, and a Maine Literary Award. She is the recipient of the Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry and the Singapore Poetry Prize, and her poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Yale Review, Indiana Review, and The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit. She teaches and lives in San Mateo County.

Poem on Belonging

SHELTERING
                     with lines by Louise Glück

Ready or not, here we are. We’ve been lost and found,
            gone underground. We’ve raised cardboard cities,
pounded owers to pulp. Danced like seeds, sprouting.
            We’ve been Stuck in the Mud, traced ourselves
in chalk, watched our bodies turn to brilliant dust.
            Around us, the death toll rises. Something comes
into the world calling disorder, disorder—

            Ordered home, we’re baking. You peer
into the oven. I don’t know how much longer, I say—
            lost, too, in this interminable landscape.
Somewhere in the desert, my great-grandfather lifts
            a stone from a dry creek bed. Sui meaning water,
seki meaning stone—suiseki as in viewing stones,
            naturally formed. For days, he contemplates
its dimensions. A desolate island, perhaps—blueprint
            of some past or future grief.
How many times have we made life from dust?
            First strawberries, then carnations. Roses,
by trial and error. Unearthed, we’ve found the white
            of bones, wet of saliva, sound of singing—
at the end of my suffering there was a door.
            One day we will reenter the house of the living.
A local store texts: OPEN NOW! FACE MASKS
            AND GLOVES FOR SALE! You chant rhymes,
write your name for the first time. You’re learning
            the names of things. Yeast. Virus. Oxalis.
You call it the pandemonium. Enculturation,
            they say, bringing a child into language—
from raw and unformed to browned. Friday,
            we knead dough. Monday, you push stones
into place, form the letters “Y,” “X.” We touch
            the rough, chiseled edges. Count the days.
Outside, fever rages. It’s spring again. You pick
            wild irises with gold veins, bellowers
with red and yellow striations. Your bodies—
            so beloved, sometimes I mistake one
for the other—climb into bed beside me.
            The hours stretch. Dusk lengthens over the trees.
From my window, I can see the neighbors’ lit A-frame.
            I was once afraid—I still am, but every night
the sun sets, and in the gloaming, a star—or is it
            the light from a plane—blinks on—

Copyright © 2020 by Mia Ayumi Malhotra. This poem originally appeared in MiGoZine Winter 2020. Used with permission of the author.

Find Mia’s book in the library!

Isako Isako (2018)