Rajiv Mohabir


Born of a sugarcane stalk
          I am the first mad(wo)man

to descend barrack steps
          into a body of petals. In some Indian

story this grass is my ancestor,
          but I don't know it.

To forget is to survive; I am expert
          at amnesia, new moon faced,
I have my own mantra. Somewhere
          my umbilical chord sleeps

under handfuls of rice-field dirt
          my father's father threw

into sky, to forecast gravity
          of shaping a ship or a pile

of shit. Now the land is erased
          from under my feet. I am told
there is no name for me,
          we've spit out English, but this game

of interpreting shadow,
          reading bodies into holes of text:

a trick of memory that erases.
          O Ancestors, I've inherited passing:

how to disappear straight and
          to alveolarize my name, all blue,

bribed by silk and hate, a relic:
          a lover's lip, a dead queer's tongue

that's licked assholes bald,
          back against shipboards and cane,

the many toothed snake
          striking this body:

a terrible well of black water.








This poem draws from Vijay Mishra's assertion that the "origin myth" of indenture era Indian forced migration is that of trauma and crossing the kalapani (literally "black water"—the sea) by ship for the Caribbean. The word "hiranyagarbha" is the primordial egg of creation birthed by Vishnu's navel. Here I show that there is also a history of queers that migrated to the British sugar plantations as well. It's subtle and the evidence of individuals is scant but through a process of reading the holes in the official accounts such narratives become clear. This is dedicated to one individual whose story was excavated by Gaiutra Bahadur's text Coolie Woman. Her name was Rukmini and she was a hijra that was able to hide long enough to make it to the Caribbean. I see these journeyers, these badass arrivants as my ancestors.