Noe Valley Voice May 2009

Walking the Border

Poems by Athena Kashyap

world café

I'm diluted, my skin grown permeable, breathable.
With Abraham in his cafe, conversation oscillates, a dance--
he suggests I try dolmas in his thick desert English,
I vacillate, trying to locate the exact geography of my craving.
My body succumbs, my tongue a compass for distant tastes:
crunchy Korean fish eyes, sugar-chili Gujarati vegetables,
Burmese floating soups--murky ponds with flotsams
of beef and vegetables, red simmering Kerala crab curries,
the salty sweetness of my lover's dark skin.
So many lives I've lived--I revisit them all and more in these cafes,
truck stops for travelers needing to shake off and drink in selves.

Mary's Exchange

So many clothes inhabiting lives! This blue coat wears
my body thin, limbs lost inside funnels of sleeves.
Someone still lives within its recesses, her smell
smudged in curved cuffs, flamboyant feather collar.
I feel borrowed, body snatched into the shell of another.
My mind, a sea of choices, travels the racks,
each a country of possibility of who I might become.
My eyes bore into the mirror's silver, keep from drowning.

home, a lonely

room in my mind
keeps calling to me to enter--

trace the path down the hallway
to mother (only in place

of her room: a stray cat
the watch you gave and I lost
on my thirteenth birthday)

sound of sea sucking dirty
milk from the factory

rain smattering windows...
voices echoing my name

you liked to play with pellet guns
smell of roasted aubergines

Bombay, South Hadley, Los Angeles, San Francisco
past lives dissolved in names

the getting outside of
and back in again

the friend you promised to be
vinyl interiors, 101 South, bus #89

the warm cave of your last
embrace; the having been

forever pulsing between
the swinging shutters of thought.

the corner store

The owner of the corner store does not know my name, nor I his.
He does not even nod when I enter, but stands gruff and still.
When I complain about the price--fifty cents for an onion--
he tells me "buy elsewhere." But when he chats with his children,
just come back from school, his voice melts. For a moment,
the sound of soft clapping, clouds and rain takes me back to Mumbai,
the sea-washed sidewalks, bare feet slipping out of rubber slippers.
The J-Church screeches past. I look up, the children are gone.
Only mounds of tins, moldy produce surround us once again.
I pay for my onion and count the change. We are careful
not to let our fingers touch. Mountains of miles trail both of us--
we have to keep them untangled.


Throat of vase
filled with pebbles
from afar, and memories
plump and sweet, crossing over
continents, thirsty seas, generations
spilling into this living room, bodies
dissolving into each other, strains of music:
o sathi rey, aee, aee, tere bhi nabhi kya jeena--
Soulja boy grew up in this hoe, watch me crank it--
shifting this idea we had about you and me, these worlds
we've built out of paper--visas, passports, bank accounts,
collapsing at the center of time unfolding, the splendor of being--
no fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, great grandmothers,
no one, not even our past selves, no one there to catch up, demand explanations.

painting in neighborhood cafe

The painting on the back wall crowds the room--
a belly-dancer's flowing skirt, pot-bellied men sucking hookahs,
paisley-pink Oriental carpets cut off at the gold frame.
The painting will not let me in. Even as the cashier's radio rattles on--
suicide bombs, shards of skin and bone. I want to get up and shake it,
flake off the strings of topaz, reams of carpet, yards of magenta silk.

walking the border

Come walk the border
San Francisco lies ripe
freeways unclench their fists--

Church and Dolores streets turn sideways
doors and windows open and hanging
prison walls crumble--the air is sweet!

Tonight each of us is homeless
we have nothing and everything to lose
in this single night's daring.

Come, my love,
the sky is purple with longing
together let us fall off the edge--

Athena Kashyap has lived in Noe Valley for the past 10 years. She teaches writing at City College of San Francisco, and is also a wife, a mother to a 3-year-old girl, and an accomplished poet. The holder of an MFA in poetry from San Francisco State University, Kashyap has published work in Spork, Squaw Valley Review, the Waits-Mast Poetry Collection 2009 chapbook, and the forthcoming international edition of The Fourth River, among other journals. She notes that many of her poems refer to specific cafes and shops in Noe Valley.