“This is how everyone in India is brought up—listening to ghost stories.” –Sushil Sharma, The Washington Post
the village men fear my evil mouth: so-called daayan feeding on cattle,
stirring dust to stifle crops. i am single. have no man
to stand his two feet on top of my ground & reassure:
i am no danger.
me with the lotus painted on her bedroom wall. me the she-devi,
& lower, until i end in dirt.
men cry for help. the dayaans, they say, have different
eyes. they say our mantras shrill up the dry air. some forget
they, too, are sudras, all told to serve
all bent to till all bent toward ground.
they say we crave the blood of chickens,
the piss & shit of men. they cram it
the ohja is always a man. he can sense the dayaan’s floral
spirit—a wicked thing—in the sal trees, before he brands her
name onto its branches. he waits for inevitable wither. he performs
his white magic. his purification. tosses rice at white ants. asks that they gravitate
to nonexistent black.
they bring me a burnt rooster’s ashes, wrapped in banana leaf, sprinkled
with boiled rice. they crouch behind shrubbery, waiting.
there is gold in my house. there is gold on my hands.
the ohja has his men, his summoning. let them bribe me. they will break
my teeth. they will rape my sisters. they want it all white—but me,
i’m this dark woman. i’ve been working their fields under their
sun. they come into my altar, my whitewashed walls. they see me sitting
cross-legged on packed mud, surrounded by figurines of my gods & i am shining
like a goddamn devil.
Raena Shirali lives in Charleston, South Carolina, where she teaches English at College of Charleston. She recently received her Masters in Fine Arts in poetry from The Ohio State University. Her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Banango Street, Better: Culture & Lit, The Boiler, Boston Review, Fogged Clarity, Four Way Review, Gulf Coast, The Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Ninth Letter, The Nervous Breakdown, No More Potlucks, Ostrich Review, Phantom Limb, Pleiades, Quarterly West, and Winter Tangerine. Her honors and awards include the 2014 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, recognition as a finalist for the 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and a 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. Most recently, she was awarded a 2016 Pushcart Prize for her poetry.