The Boiler

Anuradha Bhowmik

FOOD COLORING

Friendly’s on Friday, when kids eat free: browns
and their discounts. You point to my clear sundae
cup—Didi, you’re coffee brown, and I’m chocolate brown.
Blanks in the blocks on your kid’s menu
crossword: predetermined. Colored letters look
better inside white space; hot fudge tastes best on
vanilla—you scoop up white with a silver spoon.
For now, you can pretend. Almost missed myself:
brown backwash melted into the whitewash.
Sketched self-portraits on display in a first grade
classroom: dark chocolate brown lost in a Crayola
box with peach and apricot. Color your skin
softly, use Brown sparingly: don’t press too hard
now. Six year-old crayon scribbles streaked like
chocolate sauce—smeared across your face,
smeared across mine. The way we’ll be defined,
denied, wiped off the mouth.


ROOTS

Search the thick Super Saver paper
for sales on top soil, gritty Miracle Gro,
and cow manure that Baba turns

with a curve-blade seni; mixed with skin
from butternut mishti lao and bitter, warty
korola: crunchy rind now a yellow puree.

Cold hose mist washes pollen off white
flowers, split lima bean seams, and long
squash strings: fingers he twists to grip

onto the canopy net, draped over steel
stakes dug into dry clay clusters. We pop
cubed okra and green pepper pods

out of black plastic trays, scatter red leaf
data shak seeds. Stalks sprout straight
and I fall behind, holding the roll

of heavy-duty thread that Baba ties to
low splintered stakes for cherry tomatoes
and slender lavender eggplants

inside wire cone cages. He bends to mend
broken plant stems and drops the ripe
and rotten in the torn plastic thank you

bag in my hands: knees cracking,
heels of his feet slipping and sinking
into the mud-caked earth.


PAPER DOLLS

Strips of masking tape stick to white cement walls,
pastel Multicultural Day flyers fall to the polished

fifth grade floor. Bulletin board trimmed, paper
garland tacked, cardstock hands linked by craft

fasteners. One family: laminated cutout kids;
ceramic skinned, chapped cheeks cold

and red. Freckled brunettes lipglossed with tousled
tresses, push-up bras, and polka dot dresses. Pressed

and folded: my paper figure wedged in a locker door,
the crinkled class worksheet scrawled with India.

One community: unscathed scissor lines, crayon scribbles
in the cookie cutter head. Gingerbread face burnt

brown, crisp-edged like scabbed gorilla legs masked
in threads of black bang curtains, drawn back

for a torn hole target. Red spots of spit spill
from lip cracks, Hindus eat rats drips on toilet paper

sari scraps, stuck to the monster in the magnetic
mirror. Tucked under a taped-up, Avril Lavigne poster:

modification modeled with clean polished fingers
to fit flawlessly in a bleached chain. Sink and retreat

from the squeak of Air Jordan feet—cheerleaders
arm-lock the slack-jawed snickers of scruffless football

players. Fist pumps for the dot head destined to drop
bombs on dominoes falling to the floor, slamming

the door: red, code-locked like letter blocks printed
on rolled-up shorts and jerseys, branded on the hallway

banner for One school. Fanned flyers become balls,
crumpled by the clutch of paper dolls.

_________________________

Anuradha Bhowmik is an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech. She has been awarded a Grin City Collective Emerging Artist Residency, as well as scholarships to the New York State Summer Writers Institute and the Fine Arts Work Center. She is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.