Green Goddess

by Siva Ramanathan
The Writer's Block
Second Place, July 2014
Judged by Suzanne Lummis

On those long drives in our old Herald
you looked out of the glass window
counting coconut trees.

On Sundays we went to the Marina
and flew aeroplane kites;
I waited to see the stars.

On a train, going to your native land
for the ‘seventh–month carrying’ ceremony
I disembarked half way, afraid of facing your relatives.

How many years have you been married?
No creature, not even a worm growing in your tummy?
Do not postpone too long, the younger the brisker.

Tulsi, dainty maiden shrub, green goddess
for years I drank your syrup to cure my cough
unaware your potion was culprit.

Prasad, offered by the priests as an ancient “holy” leaf
to chew. That agent the old still use to celibate
I snatch from the reach of all nubile girls.

The figure in this poem speaks in a composed, lucid voice, a language distilled to a purity, but she makes a questionable claim. She blames the herb used in religious ceremonies, Tulsi, for her inability to bear a child. In order to determine whether we have here an "unreliable narrator" I researched the "Holy Basil," and while I found many reports extolling its benefits -- antioxidant, anti-aging, and anti-stress properties -- one did suggest it had led to decreased fertility in lab animals. Perhaps the speaker came upon the same reference. In any case, what matters is that she believes the herb led to her infertility, and in this there is such odd pathos, as if the sacred has betrayed her. It's an unusual, interesting little poem, one in which the poet doesn't tell us what to believe, what to conclude. --Suzanne Lummis