Tanuja Mehrotra Wakefield

Tanuja Mehrotra Wakefield’s poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies. Her first book, Undersong, was published in 2019 by FutureCycle Press. She lives with her family in Belmont, California where she served as poet laureate from 2015 to 2018. She works as an editor for an education technology company.

Poem on Belonging

ELEGY FOR DEERWOOD

The cicadas hum in the heat as I walk the old neighborhood,
along Windward Way West and Holly Ridge Road, past the country club 
my parents never dined in, the tennis courts they never served on.

I grew up among golf carts and security guards, swayed 
to air conditioners and ice makers, but the Florida wild 
was always close: a pink-throated lizard clinging to a window screen. 

I will not choose between the aunty stirring tea, the possum on the porch, the blue-haired lady in her Cadillac. Everything has made me: the pungent armadillo scratching the front door, Victor’s hand on my thigh.

Waves of heat wash over my daughter and me as we stumble
on a squirrel carcass near a manicured hedge. We crouch down to peer at the body of bones, grass sprouting through the eye sockets as the cicadas crescendo: 

The carpool van blaring “Who Are You,” on Rock 105, fur and a flake of skin on the rodent’s serpentine tail, running through the dunes, pool parties and potlucks, a skull licked clean into a smooth white, reading Wordsworth beside man-made lakes, mirrors of blue sky and pine, bullfrogs hidden in sneakers, visits from family in India, Elizabeth treating me to cherry cokes at the club, a trail of ants across the ribcage, hissing mailboxes, graduations, rolling green, tennis courts, bridal showers, insect wings, baby showers, boys I never kissed, breaking glass, roller-skating on driveways, lawns wet with pesticides, warm rain 
among the crickets, 		crickets, 		crickets. 

NOTE: *Deerwood is a gated community in Jacksonville, Florida where I grew up. It’s very quiet and green with large stately homes. We were likely one of the first Indian immigrant families to move into the community. Our family tended to keep to ourselves. We never took part in the amenities a gated community offers—like golfing and dining at the club. My parents never felt they belonged in such places. However, they still live in Deerwood in a home that holds many family memories. Whenever I visit them, I take long walks there, and those memories always wash over me and make me think of how we can simultaneously belong and not belong where we live. 

Copyright © 2019 by Tanuja Wakefield. Used with permission of the author.

Poet Laureate Project

Appointed by the Council of the City of Belmont in 2015, Tanuja Mehrotra Wakefield served as Belmont Poet Laureate through 2018, and founded the Belmont Poetry Night.