Archive for a Daughter

November 1972, Derby
 
                        A dance card embalmed in sweat.         
                                                                        Her ruthless curve of palm
            mowing the carpet into sheaves before a gas fire.
 
Liquidescent virgin in a purple dress.                        
                                 Oil paint, shaded avocado, umbrella sun-wings.
 
Box 2, folder 20 ‘Early Married Life’
 
a single page:
            recto
               a fashionable centre-parting
            verso
               consonants: midnight affair nuclear affair bleach affair
            watermark indecipherable
                                   
[But here we are jumping ahead]
 
The archivist notes that no exact birth date is known.
An already Western dressed 6-year-old reads the headlines
of English newspapers for party tricks.
Her black eyes are blunt and unequivocal like the prophecies of
   pharaohs.
In a Punjabi village, she and her impeccable mother, gemstoned,
   oracular,
princess a vernal causeway.
 
Box 1, folder 2 ‘Emigration’
 
The BOAC stewardesses Max Factor crinkled baskets
of sweets to soothe the girl’s swinging, impatient feet.
Aviation—a risky endeavour in 1963—levels a curse at her progeny.
Aerophobia—her own daughter’s—
fear of the air between home and exile collapsing.
 
Box 1, folder 7 ‘Education’
 
Homelands Grammar School For Girls
 
Miss Moore leans across an oak sea and parquets a line of future
   mothers.
Her bovine sympathies, neatly pressed, tentacle
                                                towards the only Indian in the class.
            The Georgian battlecross marking her forehead,
                                                kindly and thoughtfully, segregates.
 
The girl bounds wildly through the Public Library—
Huxley to her 11-year-old mind suggests individuality—
                        but the Savage’s feet recommend no one specific exit.
 
folders 8-17
 
Unbound Notebook, mostly unreadable:
 
I thought I could become a doctor and asking found I could not think to
   ask
to become anything
 
The archivist notes that these pages are not continuous.
Refer to Box 2, folder 10 ‘Correspondence’.
A photograph of a prospective husband and several handwritten
   credentials.
 
Box 3, folder 1 ‘Notes on Motherhood’
 
Nursery—pram—groceries—pram—doctor’s visit—
                                                                  cucumbers in half-lengths—
—over each shoulder some conspicuous intellect—
 
Husband-academic, wife-typist.                    
            She door-to-doors Hoovers, Avon, thick rosaries of factory lace,
while her children pop tic-tacs for invented ailments in plastic houses.
 
Nottingham hurls snowballs at her black turbaned gentleman.
 
            Soaked typescript, fair copy of a life—
 
When she asked her parents for a spare suitcase for an exodus,
            they replied my child, nothing is ever spare
 
Box 4, folder 1 ‘Exile’
 
1985, Vancouver—ablaze with cherry blossoms from here to the
   kindergarten.
We arrived with one steel pot, a bag of lentils and an onion.
 
            folder 2
 
1987, North Hollywood—submarine fences root Thanksgiving potatoes,
one a piece. My daughter reads Laura Ingalls Wilder to her menagerie
   of dolls.
Raft sails calmly on.   
 
            folder 3
 
1989, Oxnard—Gifted children are purse strings.
We mind their collegiate years with interest.
El Rio wizens to a stockpile of citrus and rental agreements.
 
            folder 4
 
1995, Ventura—Bibled to real estate, gold blazers
cinch round a wade of blonde, leathered adulterers.
The neighbours tend their god-plots of lawn and hedge.
 
Box 5, folder 1 ‘Drs Parmar’
 
She saunas with the ladies of the Gold Coast—
            one Japanese ex-comfort woman, one savvy señora
            goldbuckled and multifranchised.
 
Stanford, Northwestern, Harvard, London, Cambridge—
and when my husband’s sisters wept
because I had no sons I said I have two doctors
(one of body, the other of mind)
and sent my uterus via Federal Express
to the village, with my compliments!
 
            On the verso, written in ink, is a page from Box 1, folder 8
   [misplaced]
 
I remember clearly when I knew that I would one day die.
I was on the toilet and I was 11.
The bathroom was white and oblivious.
 
 

from The Marble Orchard (Shearsman Books, 2012), © Sandeep Parmar 2012, used by permission of the author

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