I was raised near the jutting-out
knuckle on the thumb of my right hand.
A native Michigander, I was never
without a map of the state, its lower peninsula
shaped like an open palm. My life line
traced the path of I-69. We took school field trips
to Lansing, in my palm’s centre,
and vacationed at the tip of my pinky,
in the sands of the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
We went on longer trips to India
to visit my parents’ relatives. In rural Kerala,
no one uses maps—our driver navigated unmarked roads
by calling out to locals from his window.
They told him, by landmark, where to take
a turn. Finally, my father recognized
the walled streets of his village, and from the road
he showed me the house where he was born, though
it wasn’t in our family anymore. We couldn’t drop in for tea.
In a clearing, women took nimble backwards steps
as they spun coir rope from the fibres of coconut husks.
If he had never left this place, one of those women
would be me. Watching them work, I turned my palm
fingers down to map my father’s hometown. Here it is,
in the first segment of my index finger, under
the thatched roofs of the Malabar coast,
at the edge of the Arabian Sea.
Copyright © Sneha Madhavan-Reese. Originally published in Rabbit Poetry Journal.
Sneha Madhavan-Reese is the author of the poetry collection Observing the Moon. She is the 2015 winner of Arc Poetry Magazine‘s Diana Brebner Prize and was a finalist for a 2018 National Magazine Award. Her writing has appeared in publications around the world, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2016. She lives with her family in Ottawa.