Four poems by Surabhi Balachander

Always the possibility.

Once upon a time we were lost on an island, halfway across the Bay Bridge.

She wore the same clothes for two or three days, without washing them.

My heart rate is 123, I cannot sleep.

They lived in a house in the middle of the woods and still a Buddha was stolen from their backyard.

I look at myself in the mirror with the shades down and I cannot see my face.

Pause on the landing in the middle of the stairs, watch the glowing midnight snow.

I give my birth date at the CVS counter, get my prescription refilled for the third time.

We threw out a plea for mercy but they took it as a reprimand.

A cantaloupe-colored paint chip I tacked onto the white kitchen wall.

Something about my internal pressure is off, so that I always hear the ocean, but only on one side.

Our next-door neighbor never mowed his lawn until his weeds infected ours.

An oversaturated sunset, the latest in the Northern Hemisphere.

When the verbs in Wikipedia biographies change overnight from is to was.

She warned us to keep our elbows in, so as not to scrape them on the water slide.

I am staring at my best friend’s face, intentionally pixelated and barely recognizable.

A debate between classmates regarding whether our situation is permanent or temporary.

If possible I would uproot all the city’s trees and replant them, upside down.


no space

in our front yard we let hundreds
of pockmarked apples fall
to the ground
half red, half green,
a different size each year
at least one thing unpredictable. they were
only occasionally edible.

the tree had been planted
so close to the house that,
fifteen years later, it grew
misshapen, straining
against the plastic siding.

my mother cross-references our name
with Anglo ones, when she spells it
in our kitchen, on the phone.
C as in Charlie, H
as in Henry, N
as in Nancy, and so on.

she lets her students call her
Dr. B. in the lab. she mixes
solutions of silver nitrate
and sodium chloride. has them watch
the precipitation. the solid
the experiment yields is white.

the space I inhabited
against which I struggled
made me
I was not the intended product
but the crystallized excess
at the edges of the mold


poisoning a goddess

learned the Ganga contains arsenic
from the Himalayas
in addition to fragments
of ash from the bodies burned
on its banks

dreaming of a land
of abundance
where fruit rolls off trees
prostrates itself
at your feet

in one neighborhood of Delhi
they painted a mural of Lakshmi
to deter people from pissing
against that wall: people stopped,
but flooded her with money instead –
a heavy pile of coins and notes in the road.
the unintentional temple
had no priests to sweep it up.

I asked my mother
what percentage of what her mother taught her
she remembers. probably 90, she said. and I asked
what percentage she’s taught me –
probably around 50, I guess.

I remember my prayers: I heard my mother
recite Durga Saptashloki every day. I learned it
without even trying.
I am writing a book
so my daughter won’t forget
what we do when we need
to throw up.


The Heads Claudia & Hermann

Rotterdam Centraal (7.6.2013)

Exposed pipes
                         and wires,
            scattered like spaghetti.
Gaping, like largemouth bass stranded
                         on polished concrete.
            Severed heads, neck to neck.
Kissing the floor. Eyes vacantly up.
            Reversed, immobilized.
                         Visions of escape, paralyzing
like a hall of mirrors.
            Twenty-five cents to use the toilet,
            heavy Euro cents in my palm.
                         Rigid wing –
Metal angled to a peak.
            Not yet enough walls
                         in this place.
            Clear curtains instead.
                         Casting shadows
                         of where we shouldn’t have been.
Across the street, around the block.
            Pigeons splitting a bag of chips.
                         Nothing to see.
                                     Beside the train tracks,
                                     a woman in a red suit
                                     locks eyes with me.
            Sign in blinking fluorescent
            Blue. Albert Heijn, we buy
            Slices of cheese.
In the train station bath and body shop,
they give us handfuls of free samples.
            Maybe they felt sorry for us,
My mother says.
            Maybe they could see the pain on our faces.
                         Visible between us
                         like lightning meeting lightning,
                         reaching out from cloud to cloud.

Surabhi Balachander grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana. She is a recent graduate of Stanford University and currently works at Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West. Her poems have appeared in Yes Poetry and The Wanderer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s