When F. tells her, the querying cashier from India
about Kashmir, her cheekbones
lilt with recognition. My grandfather drove tourists
down the valley in his van. We used to buy paper
mache gifts from there, for the family, she effuses.
And the shawls, do they still sell them there?
Each recollection opens a vista of hunger
for what she’s left behind—
It is a cold, November night.
The rain hammers its exodus on concrete, trees,
glass panes. An age-old craft, not easy
to wipe out, F. gently responds. His breath levitates
to add the word occupation, but retreats
with the tireless, hushed grace
of the erased who know better than to abrade
with anger. The cashier drones on,
each memory of Kashmir she mouths
unfurls glossed as a Bollywood flick—
with snowcapped mountains, furred
lunge of valleys, & a complete oblivion
of the soldiers who routinely strike rebels
with birdshot. The daily atrocity of each blue sky—
Privilege, I think to console F.
later, as we skip over the tram tracks.
But the night hangs privately between trees.
And I know nothing of that gloom and quell,
its delicate balance. Nor the earnestness
that dimples the cashier’s face as she clutches
back our masala chais, yielding
my half-baked promise to return.