It is difficult to do love poems well. But when I read the line ‘you are unremarkable’ in Ananya Mehta’s poem ‘Good morning, I woke up first’, I thought, what an uncliched way to describe your subject of affection. It instantly subverts all the love poems that exalt and glorify the lover. That line has stayed in my mind ever since I read it. ‘You are unremarkable’ which becomes another way of saying ‘aren’t we all?’ which becomes another way of saying ‘I love you, despite’.
It is not the big and the hyperbolic which reigns Mehta’s voice, it is the small anonymities; the mundane and the everyday business of living a life together: making a hundred collective decisions whether to ‘buy towels’, to ‘grow a garden’, to wonder if ‘last night’s bhel was missing something’. ‘I watch you’, Mehta says, over and over, and she means it in the best possible way for she is completely immersed in this quiet watching, this full witnessing. Love is nothing if not an exercise steeped in deep attention and what is poetry without attention? Just words. I invite you then to explore the small yet keenly rendered worlds of Mehta’s poems.
— Kunjana Parashar
The Bombay Literary Magazine
Good morning, I woke up first
. Like the plastic water bottle in the car dicky
. rolling noiselessly, last used years ago —
you are unremarkable.
I watch a video of the best herbal drinks
to start your day with but I am always
one ingredient short, so
I watch you, waiting for you
to flower, sprout, exhale.
I press down the wrinkles on my side
of the bedsheet — there are none
on yours — and watch you,
soaking in your quiet. I make
a list of things we need to do
right now, but
will do the next weekend instead,
. Dust the drawers and make
. the fennel-mustard spice mix
. for the chilli pickle. Wash both
. of our faces with gram flour & turmeric
. because my mother said it’d help both
. of us; she always talks to both
. of us. Practice greeting guests. Wriggle
. our bodies ready for the week to come.
need to, but you are soft now; you
curl your fingers loosely around
the pillow cover and I
know you know
. we need to.
I let my legs dangle and touch my feet
to the floor; you pull the blanket over
yourself and it envelops the distorted
dog face on your beach-brown tee.
. Should we grow a garden? Should we
. go on runs or stretch for fifteen minutes
. each morning? Should we
. get a cat? Should we
. pray? We should
start today. Your toes twitch
when the windows creak; your toes
are a lot like your fingers, cautious,
unshapen, easy to sketch.
. We should.
I count the still seconds between your
inhale and exhale;
I make a list of things I would be saying
if you were awake.
We need lighter colours — whiter
sheets, thinner curtains, brighter
towels. Buy the towels first. We could
even get a doormat.
And beads and bells.
I want to read the book you are
reading but you never seem to finish
it even though you talk about it all the
We have no photo frames; if
we died or disappeared, they
would not know who
lived here. I like that.
You have smile lines; is that
a good sign? How long have
you known me for? Do you
still make music?
Last night’s bhel was missing something.
Potato. Coriander. Onion. Sev.
Raw mango. Garlic-tomato-mint paste.
Not sweet enough. You smell of tamarind chutney.
I am hungry. What would you
like for breakfast? Do we want
breakfast? Do we eat
Do we need a newspaper subscription?
Not for us, for the coffee table.
You are all I have.
You are all I have.
I forget to count and glance
at the couch that is evidently
. ours and you
When did you exhale? Did you
. eyes open. Both
at once but
. slowly. Like
. a bird stretching its wing out
. for the first time. Like
. taking off toe rings. Like
. a dragonfly shedding its skin. Like
. soap water sinking into dusty sponges. Like
. threads slipping out of old zari work. Like
. kajal keeping the tears away, inside. Like
. a sweaty hand dropping a crayon. Like
. a perfectly pinned scarf. I have not
seen all of these things but
I have seen you. I see you
. every morning. I remember you
. a sleeping body. An
. Like the plastic water bottle in the car dicky –
. rolling noiselessly, forever never full.
there is a butterfly in my bus
and she is looking in through the mirrorlike windscreen
. at the neatly pressed white shirts
. and the oiled, black-dyed hair and
. the recklessly swinging lunch baskets
of proud working men in their fifties
who know the blue and white of this bus
. like the soles of their feet
and the smells of the insides of their noses and mouths
where the sunlight ends its journey, where
secrets sit between gums and tonsils, where
unexplored shades of pink die,
. because pink dies, pink dies,
sinless like the butterfly’s powdered brown belly,
. pink dies, and the windows rattle and
. the butterfly’s queer wingtips quiver
and i peel a dry orange near the sweaty
metal poles of the bus, that smell like the insides
of their mouths and noses,
. but the butterfly’s mind cannot hold smells, cannot
know sweat, cannot know the laughter of the
concoction — of sunbeams and fingers and oil and
voices and breathing — peeling off the poles’ yellow paint,
cannot hold the pride of pressed shirts —
. can only hold the green
. of her wings like the colour of
my mother’s eyes and dreams, which i
left behind at home not because she
. asked me to, but because they were too mad,
too large to take on a morning bus —
. where the butterfly pauses to rearrange her little
. black dots into summertime spirals
— with seats so narrow, so blue, so new that i
close my eyes and think the butterfly is a
. piece of my orange peel that flew back in
through the window, is my mother:
. from being small.
the witching hour
when it rains, i
wear bangles and
do the dishes because i
live in a building
. full of women
. and it is loud here,
it is so loud.
when it rains, we take
in our wet towels and
. because we are old
now, and we are trying.
when it rains, we
try to hold each other’s names
in our mouths for a few seconds —
. three pat-pat-pats
on the tin roof — before
. letting them trickle
into each other’s ears.
when it rains,
. we need to talk louder
and the shadows have footsteps
and the fans blubber and the
cats are all inside, and we are
. old now, and we are trying.
when it rains,
we remember boys
that we don’t like,
so we open the windows
and say we have to wear
bangles and do the dishes,
because the rain is loud
but the women are louder.
The cover image is based on one of the 1,300 oil painting that artist Em Cooper hand-painted and animated to create an extraordinary music video for the recent release of the remixed and expanded edition of Beatles’ seventh album Revolver (1966). In an interview, Cooper mentioned that her intention had been to “explore the space between dreaming and wakefulness”. Ananya Mehta’s lead poem is engaged in the very same exploration.
Author | ANANYA MEHTA
Ananya Mehta is a student of English and Political Science at St. Joseph’s University in Bangalore, India. Her writing is inspired by city life, orange cats, flower markets, seasonal fruits and the women around her. She has been published on platforms such as Youth Ki Awaaz and The Blahcksheep. Her personal essay won the Mother Tongue Essay Contest conducted by the Department of English at St. Joseph’s University in April 2022. It has been published in the department’s online magazine, The Open Dosa.