Peacocks (excerpt)

It is creeping its way towards night on a cement rooftop somewhere off the highway when nineteen year-old Ravi begs me to write a love letter for him. It is for Neha, the girl he is in love with. She speaks English, he does not. So he cannot explain to me that this is forbidden. That he is already set to marry whomever his parents choose—someone within the village, someone within the caste, and certainly not this someone, wrapped in yellow silk, who smiles up at me from the photograph he shows me.

I write it for him anyway. It has something about the moon, some stars in the sky, the way her eyes sparkle and how much he wishes they could be together always. When I finish writing, Ravi takes the letter from my hands and reads it carefully out loud. He does not understand a single word, but reads diligently and slowly, looking up at me every so often to see if he is pronouncing the words correctly.

When I hear what I have written out loud, the clichés hang in the air between us like bad breath. I wish that I could take it back and write it over.

I would write:

Dear Neha,
Be careful about rooftops.  Not about how high they are, but about how quickly your heart beats the faster you climb. Ravi’s hands are good for climbing. I like the way he stands behind his mother when she is working. Not so much to insist on helping her, but just to let her feel his presence, in case she needs him to reach for something on a top shelf. I like that he believes in love letters. His pants are a few inches too short. Have you come to visit him here?  Probably not. The peacocks are enormous. They sound like cats. No one seems to pay them very much mind, but the males dance across all the rooftops of the village, begging for someone to notice their tails.

Good luck with your secret,

About the author

Sarah Kay is a NYC-based poet whose work has taken her uptown, downtown, and out of town. Her work has been published in DamselfFly…

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Issue 12 · June 2011

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