The agarbatti plumes its familiar signal: peace, sandalwood, fire alarms
shut off. Ganpatis, as always, line my shelves: coal, red, golden. They seem level
with me now. They aren’t like other gods, don’t demand
change. I turn on every bulb, burn each wick. I know what you’re thinking. Lonely
is a word for it. My mother sings me prayers through a dimly-glowing screen,
& I try to match the lyrics. Outside, palms sway
with the thick, Southern breeze. The incense wanes. I burn
through three matches trying to get it right. Slowly,
I find the Gayatri Mantra, chant under my breath. I’m this bright, lit thing,
far from the white boys walking by, dressed in their seersucker,
their pale stripes. Past my lawn, the coast threatens to lap itself up. The suburbs
are cast in shadow. My mother asks if I have prasad—any fruit will do—if I’ll eat
a laddu & accept the new light this darkness can offer. A truck revs its engine,
sends sooty shearwaters into the night. I find a lychee, bite into it. I say yes.
Raena Shirali’s first book, GILT, is forthcoming in 2016 with YesYes Books, and her work has appeared in Crazyhorse, Four Way Review, Indiana Review, Muzzle Magazine, Ninth Letter, The Nervous Breakdown, Pleiades, and many more. Her other honors include a 2016 Pushcart Prize, the 2014 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, and a “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize in 2013. She currently lives in Charleston, SC, where she teaches English at College of Charleston.