in the bluest valley, my mother grows chillies
all memory of wanting contained in the impressions
of leaves leaning towards naked sun.
five in the morning and the great hornbill
bangs his beak against the tin water heater,
freeing his image. then, he recedes into the wild sky.

seven kurumba tribes live in the nilgiris, each named
for their relationship to the land: alu, palu, betta, jenu, mulla, urali, muduga
milk, hill, honey, net, village, unknown etymology
language mediates relationships – land mediates survival

for twenty years, the adivasi hospital struggles to receive adivasis
we brahmins named them ‘pata,’ ‘kala’
cockroach, black. the fist of a tumor tearing a woman’s stomach
she is seated on the hospital floor to make space for the brahmins.
my grandmother asks mama if they get the same diseases as we do,
do their bones break, do they feel, do they bleed, do they die, too?

slender girl with thick black plaits hides her teeth
from me when she smiles. her friendship is bravery,
my body is violence.

mischief, in tamil, ‘kurumbu’
mischief, a container for the sacred.
the great kurumba diviners and sorcerers, kanigara and odigara,
lower all corners of the body onto wet, receiving earth.
intimate land, beloved, snake, sky, thorn, bee, tiger, grass
the kurumba exchange divinity for peace with local tribes: badaga, toda, kota, irula

each limb of the land parcelled by the british
like a fatted calf. scarcity, the white man’s conceit.
basket makers, rat catchers, fishermen die from
malnourishment, now refigured as sorcery.
in the 19th century, kurumba are massacred
magic mischief ancient buttress roots
finding the body in land, the body as land
the abundant self eternally criminalized


low leaf wet seed
I smell salt in the air
and on my feverish body
I am a woman
I am grateful to be in this country

white girl folds shapes breaks me
yet mine is the history of the sapling
remember this: the tenderness that you grasped her with,
reaching with your eyes and
in your hands, a patience.
this is the way my mama watches birds
magic first in the looking

yet my immigrant hands cannot conjure, only grieve
you touch me like you’re sad, she says
I am so embarrassed of my body
my stinking breathing fruit
my thick vines piled into an agonizing clot

at the base of my throat, a silence
I am grateful to be in this country
I chant this daily, a prayer for all my transgressions
I kiss her with bravery, I leave space for
new ideas about myself

white girl wants more, white girl wants,
white girl always wants
on the bank of the ganges, my mama warns me
I must always share everything sacred
the moment I imagine something is only mine,
it will vanish.
like my father, my country, my freedom
I’ve become an expert in loss

she contains it, but my light leaks through her closed fist
her feelings wrap around my throat, a bloody knot in my lungs
I give her my body, my peace, my freedom
I am grateful to be in this country

white girl asks where I go to when I go
what I feel when she is not there
her thumb presses on my chin, am I like the rest of them?
she is small she is fragile I am an animal she has rescued

her hands speak in conquest,
through my body, she makes herself
I am grateful to be in this country
there is nothing indian in my home,
just a wide blue wall to take pictures of yourself
a curtain to conceal all loneliness and shame

she hurts me, but this is her right
scarcity is her fear and her power
it is her right to wilt, to scream, to feel, to feel, to feel
I am brave I am brave I am an underground fire
I am the connective tissue in the body of the earth
I am learning to walk on a gravel road
I am barefoot
I am grateful to be in this country


listen: before they climb the hills for sacred honey, the korumba men get drunk on toddy
at the government liquor shop
just three stings from the rock hill bees, and a grown man could die
the liquor store is emblazoned with the CM of tamil nadu’s warm, jolly face

I don’t know how they can manage, my mama says
she says the same thing when a korumba woman coaxes a snake out of her bedroom,
neither harming the snake nor upturning this frail, sickly world

but the men get too drunk to come home to their wives
and their children fall asleep in school, groggy with hunger
in an article I am reading, dr. prabhudas warns that the kurumbas are in great peril.
over 80% of newborns are underweight.
women walk to the hospital, complaining of psychic screaming, dull pains in their stomachs
alcoholic hepatitis, gangrene, TB, suicide
the chalkboard in mama’s office is crowded with typical conditions

before the hospital, one doctor tells me,
an adivasi might walk into the forest and wait to die
now, she will survive each inhuman experience after inhuman experience

I am thinking aloud with my whole body
I have only learned to walk on the bones of so many unnamed souls
for me, a child catches a butterfly and names her vainilla. moonlight.

white girl asks me why I am looking, so often, at the moon
she wants to know why I am not looking at her
my loss takes the shape of abundance,
death and magic as twin souls
she envies my gaze, my hands, my freedom borne from grief
white girl recedes into a void of want

everyday I am shaking with fearlessness
the depth of my light also a profound darkness,
a shoreline littered with skulls and small, outstretched arms

belonging is a 1000 year old prayer
the true death of knowing, yes, there will and has always been enough for me
I am not grateful to be in this country
but I kiss the earth I stand on
and I name each wild, unruly being that came before me
that drew light from arching roots brave elephant sweet banana leaf
with open palms, not closed fists,
that walked naked into the grassy clearing and waited to die.

MAITREYI RAY is a poet & performance artist who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She plays fast & loose with time and space. Come sit with her in her kitchen – she’ll talk yr ear off. Find her on Instagram @babytoupees4cheap