Mia Ayumi Malhotra

SHELTERING: FAMILY NOTEBOOK
          for my daughters, with lines from Louise Glück

Ready or not, here we are. We’ve been lost and found,
gone underground. We’ve raised cardboard cities,
pounded flowers to pulp. Danced like seeds, sprouting.
We’ve been Stuck in the Mud. We’ve pickled green beans
and carrots, watched spices rise to yeasty, bubbling surface.
We’ve traced ourselves in chalk, turned our bodies
to brilliant dust. We’ve learned to feast in the desert,
to braid bread, live bottled in, peppercorns and all.
We’ve shuffled in grocery lines and paged through
The New Yorker’s grim spreads: emergency hospitals,
corpses stacked three deep. Around us, the death
toll rises. Something comes into the world unwelcome
calling disorder, disorder— Ordered home, we’re baking.
It’s Friday, and my daughters peer into the oven.
They miss school. They miss their friends. I don’t know
how much longer, I say. Lost, too, in this interminable landscape.
Somewhere in the desert, my great-grandfather lifts
a stone from a dry creek bed. Sui meaning water,
seki meaning stone—suiseki as in viewing stones, naturally
formed. He brushes dirt from the rock’s surface, sets it
on end. For days, he contemplates its dimensions.
A desolate island, perhaps—blueprint of some past
or future grief. So often, we’ve made life from dust.
First strawberries, then carnations. Roses, by trial
and error. Unearthed, we’ve found the white of bones,
wet of saliva, sound of singing—at the end of my suffering
there was a door. One day, we will reenter the house
of the living. A local party store texts: OPEN NOW!
FACE MASKS AND GLOVES FOR SALE!
My daughter chants rhymes, writes her name
for the first time. She’s learning the names of things.
Virus. Yeast. Pandemic. She calls it the pandemonium.
Enculturation, they say, bringing a child into language—
from raw to cooked, from pale and unformed
to browned. Friday, she kneads dough. Monday,
she pushes stones into place, forms the letter “Y.”
We touch the rough, chiseled edges and count
the days. Outside, fever rages. It’s spring. She picks
flowers with her sister, wild irises with gold veins,
bellflowers with red and yellow striations. Their bodies—
so beloved, I sometimes mistake one for the other—
climb into bed beside me. The hours stretch, elastic.
Dusk lengthens over the trees. From my window,
I can see the neighbors’ lit A-frame. I was once afraid—
I still am, but every night the sun sets, and in the gloaming,
a star—or is it the light from a plane—blinks on—


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MIA AYUMI MALHOTRA is the author of Isako Isako, a California Book Award finalist and winner of the Alice James Award, the Nautilus Gold Award, a National Indie Excellence Award, and a Maine Literary Award. She is the recipient of the Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry and the Singapore Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Yale Review, Indiana Review, and Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience.

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