Vikram Masson, “My Father Comes for Diwali: 1973”

Vikram Masson is a lawyer by training who lives near Richmond, Virginia. His poetry is featured or forthcoming in Amethyst Review, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Young Ravens Literary Review, and The American Journal of Poetry.

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My Father Comes for Diwali: 1973

It was Diwali, and my father had arrived
from India two days before. I asked:
Should we garland the apartment with blinking lights?
Draw the goddess’s footprints in the vestibule
and prepare prasad for the puja?

Don’t indulge in such superstitions here, he said.
Only women fuss over that sort of thing. Instead
we would drink brandy with my graduate school friends
coming to celebrate with us in the evening.

Just two days in America and he charmed people who,
over the years, barely said a word to me.
The patrons of Walter’s Barber Shop sat transfixed
as he described how he healed wounded horses
in the 8th Punjab regiment, which battled
Axis troops in Africa. Old white men
in those days loved to talk about the war, and thought
Indians brought towels and served tea to British officers.
Your father is a gem of a man, a warrior, said Walter,
as he dabbed the remaining wisps of hot cream
off my father’s neck.

At Monteleone’s, the old Sicilian with a toothpick
dangling from his mouth so adored my father’s smile and
clipped accent that he gifted him a loaf of sausage bread.
My father held it up like a communion wafer and split it open,
releasing the fragrant steam of bread and meat.
He passed it out to paint-flecked carpenters
waiting for their coffee and buttered rolls.

***
That evening he dressed in a burgundy ascot
and Harris tweed jacket, looking like a brown Englishman.
On Diwali, we welcome Lord Rama’s return
from exile. One day my son will return from exile too,
he said to my friends. He talked politics:
Nehru’s failures, the foolishness of Nixon;
and the varieties of Indian mangoes–
Alphonso, Chaunsa, Dasheri, Langra–
the subtle differences in their sweet undersongs,
which ones to cut, which ones to suck.
As always, the women loved him most.
They leaned forward with hands on bare knees,
hair skirting cheeks, listening as if he were
another maharishi come to whisper mantras.
Would he dare try anything with one of them?

He left all the serving to me. I brought nips of brandy
and cups of trembling Jell-O crowned with Cool Whip.
When I dropped a Jell-O cup, he said, still clumsy
like a boy, and the auburn-haired woman
I had been eyeing for a year tousled my hair
and petted me like a kitten.

***
I stepped onto the fire escape.
Not a single firecracker disturbed the blue-black silence–
how different from India! The stink of curbside garbage
wafted up, and I wondered: How will I live again
with a father who thwacked my door
at 4:00 a.m. on frost-hardened Delhi mornings
to whip differential equations into my head;
who brought his mistresses to our bungalow
and took them with a rhythmic tuk tuk
on the teakwood settee, in earshot of my mother,
who sat knitting in the living room?

But I would never go back. Some months later
a monkey bit him outside the Kashi temple in Benares.
His body swelled, his handsome face erupted with pox,
and delusions scissored and shredded his mind.
My dear father, who commanded all things in his world,
who shaped me like a craftsman hammering gold–
felled by a rabid animal so I could begin to live.

 


 

 

 

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