“An Imperfect Cook” and Other Poems by Kashiana Singh

An imperfect cook

I often look up the recipes saved in a handmade diary
one I had brought along, it was sealed in a quilted bag
of things, it was not one of brocade or of autumn rich
colors, not like bags sealed with dowry, massive, final

this bag was handmade, my dadi’s, not a quintessential
feast of gold and zardozi of weddings, it was permeable
of skin, muslin pores on its surface, colored in mustard
of haldi, reminding me of dadi’s golden concoction with
ginger, honey in warm water and the pinch of curcumin

that brought potency to all our lives. this bag held combs
bottle of pressed almond oil, odorless, colorless, character
less, an oil for long black hair, nani’s watch, its leather strap
peeling back from itself, a pair of grape drop ear danglers, its
purple and pearl resplendent like a lightning streak, on fungal
skies. a pink banarasi in silver filigree, a creeping trellis on the

edges, frangipani as an isthmus flowing along a silk canvas of
pristine flesh, a feast to the eyes in spite of their hysterical lives
all the recipes written in royal blue ink, scratched on pale paper
a continuous dancing of words on page after page, the edges of
alphabets holding in them residues of unacknowledged cooking
noted with surety, yet restlessly penned using the split ended nib
not fancy like those iridium coated nibs these days. of home yet

homeless, I can always see her, in all the intricate details, in spite
of a lingering desire to not do so, yet the mind rarely forgets—
I can see her mouthing a ghazal, from black and white movies
frail, slender, I think she was sprawled on an off-white cambric
bedsheet, with a border of scallops in navy anchor thread, loops
of herringbone stitch in endless meditation, she was settled with
a gauze dupatta resting on her curved neck, caressing her dreams
draped in its billowing she writes one recipe after another, she is

one with the latticed night, then she becomes a poet of fire, with
fire of the kitchen stove residing as the lord of her heart. fire of
flesh and bones, of life in the womb, of nurturing hunger, peace
this handmade paper book that is now mine is gradient, as if the
sand of her memory has settled into its texture, food the fate of
these pages, curry stains in blobs on many, I rub into it and feel
the heat, acid on my palette. pathways into histories of hysterical
woman who cooked like annapurna, served as prasad at dawn, I
also see spots of camphor, a mark of being devotee and devoted

a small pouch of spices is also tucked into the jacket
of this ikat covered journal, decomposing, stubborn

bark of cassia
5 peppercorns
cardamom pods
coconut shreds
pins of clove
cumin breath
crushed mace
saunf, saffron
mustard beads
nutmeg flavor
turmeric strips
star anise too

all hustled together, a wee
sack, crumpled, wrinkled
like skin of prune, pieces
of it stretched across time
like the ingredients it held
no words offered, nothing
explained, an omen, a wish
within the flesh of a womb
and my very wakeful nights

I walk into the kitchen, a pilgrimage, and perform the
act of opening a spice container, inhale few times, the
seven spice drowning stigmas, storms, brewing inside
I pick and invoke, summon all women past, future as
well as present, I caress all its spices lingeringly, place
back into the stringed cloth, while the world is asleep
counting one by one, reconciling all five pepper corns
I let my fingers wind at the twisted string, three times
twisting it tighter around the neck, I return it into the
notebook, practice makes perfect, still trying to locate
myself as a cook inside the pages of those being dead
still drawing patterns into the empty, smudging them

How to eat a mango like a 9-month-old

Always grab the mango pit, before anyone
else claims it, guaranteed laughter as well
as memories stuck in your teeth.

Feel the heart of a mango as you thumb it
like a heart surgeon palpitating into every
muscle of the organ in his care.

Touch it from top to bottom, then bottom
to top, first dip fingertips, 3000 receptors in
the buttery flesh, a scavenger.

Bring the mustached pit to your lips, let
it explore the eager cave of your mouth
saliva drooling into porous taste.

Shape your jaw like an O… and let the seed
spill into and out, dripping itself, teasing as
you squint your eyes with joy.

Bathe your face, fingers, neck in succulence
unbothered, because this sticky summer will
live in your diaphragm, irreverent.

Eat it on the floor, spread newspapers if you
wish to, pretend to not be an adult, triumph
as you slurp into residual flesh.

Roll up your sleeves, lengthen your arms as
you scrape at its ripeness, a fragrant golden
oozing decadence, palms gripping.

Remember you can never tell when you are
done, practice a pause, then unrepentantly
thread the magic in your hands.

In between, after starting, before finishing
think of synthesis of photosynthesis, earth
in full fibrous pomp, a muscular kernel.

Stay with it, everything is about the body
and earth, grasp the remains of mangoes
let its ridges imprint into your palms.

The ninth cup of tea

With or without sugar and a wedge of lemon
well-earned after long days, a mundane week
well slurped, a liquid with consistent contexts
clearing our chests of a clumsy breathlessness.

We waited for someone in silence, occupying absence
We sheltered, reliving the cacophony of a love making
followed by an uninterrupted pause, we leaned into it
like an ocean paused in mid tsunami.

Sitting down, cross legged across the room from you
a bowl of biscotti, from a grocery store, the disrobed
almonds making each bite worth it. each dipped piece
of rusk, dunked into amnesia. ceremony.

Cardamom is crushed, in a mortar and pestle, mid-air
as tea begins boiling over a broth fleetingly skims at
the anxious edge of a steel pan, a steaming, bubbling
repetition. tulsi reflecting in stillness.

Just like this past year, the year spirals inside chipped
cups, tea shared, you and I holding hands, stretching
we shelter between fingers webbed together, a web of
encountered touch, clawing at slivers of hope.

Visiting tourists who return to wasted homelands, find
pleasure in scents, relish a sense of confusion, see signs.
we too saw, smelt, felt those we had left behind, a voice
collectively sighing, ivory bones witnessing.

Eavesdropping often, on neighbors, their questions too
as we still stayed sheltered, sheltering in place, a homing
when checking in on each other, we lean in, insisting on
asking about the weather across oceans.

Again, a kettle of kahwa, in the exact same spot
smoke hovering from spout into our moist eyes
wintered branch tapping at shuttered glass panes
like rangoli shaped sparklers, they tease us inside.

—About the Author—

Kashiana Singh calls herself a work practitioner and embodies the essence of her TEDx talk – Work as Worship into her everyday. She proudly serves as a Managing Editor for Poets Reading the News. Her newest full-length collection, Woman by the Door was released with Apprentice House Press in 2022. Kashiana lives in North Carolina and carries her various geopolitical homes within her poetry.