Poetry by Unnathy Nellutla ’19 earned a 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Award Gold Key for Poetry and was selected by judges as one of five nominees from New Jersey for the prestigious American Voices Medal.
When my mother turned sixteen
her father flaked away like dust
on the roof of his sand-colored house in South India
leaving her his unsmiling photographs
and gold bars
to be made into wedding jewelry.
Years later, when she married my father holding
twenty gold bangles on each arm
her mother lined her eyes and told her
the gold was not a dowry
but an asset
for the bride.
On the plane to America with my father and his sister
she wore filigree shackles up to her elbows
then locked them in a cracked plastic box under the bed
in a Jersey City apartment
and began to call my father the names
her mother had called her father,
My Sun, My Gold, My Gold.
My Gold is only a little less than
Those first months of marriage
she slept a few nights a week in the guestroom
with her new sister-in-law
a girl she had known on the playground in Hyderabad
who had sung her an auspicious song
Shame, shame, puppyshame
All the boys know your name.
Ten years later they giggled in the dark
Jersey City bedroom over stories from their school days.
In a new country it was comforting to know
someone still thought of you like sliced brown bread
easily pulled apart.
My aunt hugged my mother goodbye
with the cracked plastic case full of stolen gold
tucked into her luggage,
leaving my mother in a clean city
made of plain rice and lemon in a bowl.
My mother never looked under the bed just to try the bangles
on with the scratchy Hindi radio and so
never cried in the tiny rooms with the radio on.
Never made calls, faraway demands.
Never was told by a man who loved his sister
to get over the loss,
pressing her stick-colored arms against the white
walls of the apartment.
Eight months later my father had to shave
his beard and stay inside for a week,
and she thought
he was a good man.
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