Six Poems

By Rajiv Mohabir

Artwork by Kareen Adam

October 31st 2020

Ghee Persad  


You know straight away it’s ghee
and not oil but you can’t eat it
without gambling for the price
of home-feelings, you may soon lose
a toe, then a foot, then your leg.
Call it faith—like drinking Ganga water?
Call it an offering, like this sweet,
that stood at the bronze feet of the ten-
weaponed, tiger-riding Devi. You’ve
recounted the tale of how she slew
the demon-headed asura who made
a compact with the gods so strong
             they trembled in heaven, how
             sugar is also divine and terrible.


     First hot the karahi with ghee and paache de flouah till ‘e brown-brown den add de sugah and slow slow pour de milk zat ‘e na must get lumpy.

Like you mek fe you sista fust picknki ke nine-day, how you tuhn and tuhn ‘am in de pot hard-hard you han’ been pain you fe days, but now you see how ovah-jai you sistah face been deh. You live fe dis kine sweetness.

You eat one lil lil piece an’ know dis a de real t’ing.

Like when a-you been small an’ you home been bright wid bhajans play steady, how de paper bag wha’ been get de persad became clear from de ghee you been hable fe see you own face.


You pass through
             ever kind watah,
there is always new
             life to celebrate.


Seawall at Morning   

              Georgetown, Guyana 2019

              What starts at night
               startles the dawn:

              rain water replenishes the trench
              lotus stalks and petals stand tall.

              Seawall signs painted Namasté in acrylic. 

              Beyond, the sea silts brown as mud as
              a frigate soars wings of stone.

             And beyond:
             a ship with sails from 1838

             I look twice—

             an oil rig? Another form
             of bondage?


Pandemic Love Poem  

One by one
the yellow jackets
leave their nest,
a hole covered
with decaying leaves
that warm the ground
and an inert queen
they’ve fed
all autumn. What sleeps
inside will one
day burst into
a wind of wings.
What will wake
a sleeping queen?
Beneath my waist
growing larger,
the sting of nights one
by one, when
I am stranger and
stranger to you.
We sleep in a converted
porch, wooden siding,
the wall that insulates
what’s inside it
which is not you,
nor is it me.
The bedclothes stiffen
with cold. Remember
me? One by
one peel the yellow
sheets from our nest. Prick me
with your heat
from sleep. Place
a cardamom pod
under my tongue.
Come, dissolve
with me.


Sita ke Jhumar  

स्टाब्ब्रुक के बाजार में अंगूठिया गिरी गयल रे।
             स्टाब्ब्रुक के बाजार में अंगूठिया गिरी गयल रे।
हमसे खिसियाई बाकी हमार गलतिया नाहीं ।
             सास करइला चोखा खावे, ससुर दारू पिये।
ससुराल में परदेसिया रोटी थपथपे अउर दाल चउंके।
            आमवा लाये भेजल हमके जीरा लाये भेजल हमके।
बाकरा ठगल हमके संगे जाने ना माँगे है।
            गिनिप लाये भेजल हमके जमुन लाये भेजल हमके।
ससुराल में परदेसिया, मासाला पीसे अउर बड़ा तले।
            ओरहन पेटाइहे हमार माइ के, बाबा से खिसीयाइहे।
साँइया खिसियाई हमसे गलतिया नाहीं हमार रामा।
             स्टाब्ब्रुक के बाजार में अंगूठिया गिरी गयल रे


stabroek ke bajar mein anguthi giri gayal re
             stabroek ke bajar mein anguthiya giri gayal re
hamse khisiyayi baki hamar galtiya nahi
             saas karaila choka khawe sasur daru piye
sasural mein pardesiya roti thapthape aur daal chaunke
             aamwa laye bhejal hamke jira laye bhejal hamke
backra thagal hamke sange jane na mange hai
             guinip laye bhejal hamke jamun laye bhejal hamke
sasural mein pardesiya, masala pise aur barah tale
             orahan petaihai hamar mai ke baba se khisiyai hai
saiya khisiyaiyi hamse galtiya nahin hamar rama
             stabroek ke bajar mein anguthiya giri gayal re


Me ring fall from me finga a Stabroek.
             Me husban’ go vex. He mudda’ wan’ eat
karaila chokha, he faddah suck rum steady.
             Me na nut’in’ to dem. Me does clap a-roti
an’ chounke de daal. Me husban’ send
             me a market fe buy mangro an’ fe get jeera.
Backra been tek me ‘way wid dem come,
             me na been wan’ fe come ‘way. Me husban’
send me mus’ buy guinip an’ jamun.
             Me na no one fe he mai-baap. Me does pise
de masala me does fry de barah. ‘E go sen’
             complaint to me mumma an’ vex wid me faddah.
Me husban’ go vex wid me but nut’in’ me na do.
             Me ring fall from me han’ a Stabroek.


My ring slipped from my finger,
             in Stabroek market. My love
will be angry for what was his
             fault. His mother’s eaten karaila
chokha his father’s sucked rum.
             I’m a stranger in their home,
clapping roti, spicing daal.
             My love sent me to buy mangoes,
he sent me to buy jeera. Backra
             kidnapped me; I didn’t want
to go. My love sent me to buy
             guinips, to buy jamun. I’m a stranger
in their home, grinding spices,
             frying barah. He will complain
to my mother, gripe to my father.
             My love, it’s not my fault. My ring
fell off in Stabroek market.




They came


                                    and despondent




do not forget

                                         the field


                            your blood

                   I lost

                                       the yokes of


                                                in chains.


Janam Bhumi

In November of 2019 the Indian courts allowed the Modi administration to construct a Ram temple at the site of the demolished 16th century Babri Masjid built by the Mogul ruler Babur. On August 5, 2020 they broke ground for the new mandir.


    Jai Sri Ram, now god of murder. What
            is real, Rushi, the forest is now
deforest, home its own undoing?

            Trench lotuses hard as dicks release
truth, even the skinks and hawks shrink back
             into scarcity. What of shanti—?

In Ayodhya’s sacked Mogul masjid,
            vultures scrawl Ram on new temple bricks.
Brother, from this mandir of burning,

            each sunrise mantra shoots itself
a poisoned arrow. Each snake prays.
            The unlit path sparkles maya.


Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press 2017, winner of the 2015 Kundiman Prize; Eric Hoffer Honorable Mention 2018) and The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books 2016, winner of the Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize, Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in 2017), and translator of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (1916) (Kaya Press 2019) which received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Award and received the 2020 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the American Academy of Poets. His memoir won the 2019 Reckless Books’ New Immigrant Writing Prize and is forthcoming 2021. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of poetry in the MFA program at Emerson College, translations editor at Waxwing Journal.

Kareen Adam is a Maldivian-Australian visual artist based in Melbourne. The experience of living between multiple cultures, particularly negotiating between the East and the West informs her practice. Ideas about transitions, cultural identity, and the juncture between 'local' and the 'visitor' emerge in her work; she explores these ideas using various mediums including printmaking, drawing, painting, digital media and video. She has exhibited works in Australia, Maldives, Hong Kong and has work included the Queensland Library collection. She was one of 15 commissioned artists in the award-winning visual art project Locked-In for the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2018. With a keen interest in art and community engagement, Kareen has contributed to art projects in Maldives and Australia. She was the co-director of the 3rd Annual Maldives Whale Shark Festival (2015), and the gallery manager for Kids in Mind Art Gallery, Mater Child Youth Mental Health Service (2009-2013), amongst other collaborations in Maldives and Australia. Kareen has a Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology from the Queensland University of Technology, a Diploma in Visual Arts from the Southbank Institute of Technology, Brisbane, and a Master of Creative Industries from Melbourne Polytechnic.