When the storm comes it is already too late
Suspended laundry decorates the buildings like gift wrap.
I traverse the city through color: silky yellow, red, nets of green,
rose, ripped denim, silver zari. Then sky and water
beleaguer the city, my feet disappear, I don’t know where I end
and where everything else begins—everything else is muck.
Trees renouncing their branches, windows protesting, the washing
falling like an avalanche. Cupboards, drawers, and folders choke
the street. Emptying, empty. I walk by a drain: the streets will swallow
our things. Our things will swallow the streets. I see no road signs,
no officers, no maps. Only the moon like an onion skin. Only
the fallen bark of giants. No old names, no new names,
no Calcutta, no Kolkata—it all disappears.
Even the vengeful ghosts of British officers’ mistresses,
my brothers trying to harness the flimsy lamplight, our school nurse
and her red medicine, the puchka wallas who fed the whole city,
the cooks, their threadbare mattresses, the security guards at their posts,
the property they protect—I can’t find any of it. I can’t find anyone.
Was I ever there? I careen with the wind till I reach Red Road. Driverless
cars thunder with the ancient earth. There is no direction but down.
A building gives up and lets its guts show. And the clothes are suddenly
clean and wet on my body, and I stand still just like that, shivering.
Urvi Kumbhat holds a BA from the University of Chicago and is currently an MFA candidate at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her work appears in The Margins, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Apogee, Protean Magazine, and other publications. She grew up in Calcutta.
Cherry Tree appears under the imprint of the Literary House Press, the publishing arm of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, a cultural center with an almost 50-year-history of promoting the arts. Washington College undergraduates participate in all facets of the production of this print journal, though professional writers serve as genre editors and fill most senior reader positions. Although the journal is still growing, Cherry Tree has already received national recognition. Poems from three of its six issues have been selected for inclusion in The Best American Poetry (2016, 2017, and 2020). Poems have been reprinted on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily and have appeared in the Orison Anthology. Prose has been listed as “notable” in Best American Essays and appeared in Best Microfictions (2020).