It Has Taken Many Years to See My Body by Tishani Doshi
If we could reconstruct the temple of our bodies,
we all know what we’d change first.
A little demolition work in the zone of belly,
some gutting around hips and bum,
a coat of paint after weather-stripping the face.
I would kneel first at the hillocks
of my breasts and pay obeisance.
Praise the dainty bud of squirrel’s tail
that made them. In the miniature painting
of me, the background tree meant to symbolize
my beauty would not be laden with pomegranates.
Kumquats perhaps, or plums.
The first room they gave me was a prison cell
with a tattered divan and a dog named Akhmatova.
I entered it a mole, proprietorial, in love with solitude.
Then they moved me to a castle. Then a mud hut
without a full-length mirror. At night I walk
the passages with head bowed and covered
like those Rajput women in the miniatures,
striding out in rain to meet their lovers.
Back in the room, I step out of my carapace.
Strip off the lobster tail and corset.
Blood pumps and I stuff my knickers
with what I find. Moss and hemp, delirium,
accordions of linen. I bump into Louise Bourgeois,
carrying a basket of marble eggs. She looks at my breasts
and says, You do not get anywhere by being literal,
except to be puny, then hurries off to set up
The Return of the Repressed.
It would be a lie to say I didn’t dream of largesse.
As a girl I enjoyed synchronised swimming
like Alexander McQueen, even though I often forgot
the routines, and one of the other girls said, You’re so lucky
you’re flat, meaning the opposite. Neither she nor I knew
about the devastating chic of Jane Birkins’ tiny pets.
We had not seen Donald Sutherland hover over
Julie Christie for four long minutes in Don’t Look Now,
two naked golden planks. We did not even know
about the seashell-breasted women of certain Indian
miniatures, small-statured saplings, squatting
to squeeze water from their hair to feed a thirsty crane,
blouse hitched up the bee-stung slopes while feeding
antelope. We had been prepared only for the giant
heaving smother of Ajanta’s apsaras or Silk Smitha,
for decades of backaches. Thanks, I said. Yeah, Thanks.
when I find
the lump all these
years later, my first thought
is that I should have been
spared this ignominy.
After all the hum of
pancake itty bitty,
a stone in this,
In the room
I’ve been given now
the walls are made of glass.
Outside is the desert and a city.
Beyond that the sea. A construction site
below has been abandoned. So many meticulous
rectangles arranged like open graves waiting to be filled.
One day at sunrise you come across your body
and greet it, as though it were a guest or traveller.
You bathe its legs and sprinkle it with sandalwood
and rose water. You may even have to protect
your eyes with oversized sunglasses, like those pilgrims
who can’t withstand directly, the gaze of the deity.
You will enter the inner chamber, this final doorway
in the infinity of doorways, and there will be no mediator.
No one to collect money or say a prayer, just a tapestry
of virgin wool, hanging on a washing line with wooden
pegs. You walk towards it in devotion,
touch it in all its fraying places,
bring it to your chest,
starving and full.
Listen to Tishani read a poem from her new poetry collection, A God at the Door, on our Instagram page.
Tishani Doshi is Welsh-Gujarati poet, novelist and dancer. Her most recent books are Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Poetry Award, and a novel, Small Days and Nights, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize and a New York Times Bestsellers Editor’s Choice. A God at the Door (Bloodaxe Books), her fourth collection of poems, is forthcoming in spring 2021. She lives in Tamil Nadu, India.
Tishani is the Poetry judge for the 2021 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize, which you can enter here.