Towards the end, the cancer had clamped Thatha’s jaw close. I never witnessed this—only imagined how my aunt might have pried his mouth open to place a spoon of warm soup on his tongue. An index finger poking a frozen wall of yellow teeth. Chicken broth. Clank of stainless steel on decaying enamel. Without my ever watching it, this view vivid in some mushy folds of my memory. Hours before sundown, pigeon keepers whistle the evening in as Thatha hurries to the roof where the flocks are slicing the sky to orbits. Balloons of birds are released to round up the colors of dusk. Never more alive, my grandfather or the blue above him—We count nine circles before the pigeons descend into the runway of their roof-homes, eighteen breaths before they’re sent up again. To this day, I’m unsure what the rules of the play are: Setting, the sun leaves a pink bruise where last seen—twilight’s been the same for years—Thatha leaning against the parapet wall, his jaw stretched open like the mouth of a hangar; the birds, one after another, landing on his tongue—
Vismai Rao’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Salamander, Indianapolis Review, RHINO, Rust + Moth, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Parentheses Journal, SWWIM, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Orison Anthology. She serves as Poetry Editor for The Night Heron Barks.