for Margaret Mascarenhas
I found a village and in it were all our missing women,
holding guns to the heads of birds.
They’d heard the voting had begun,
that it had been going on for years without them.
They knew their sisters had been bribed
with gas cylinders and bicycles, that even grandmas
grabbed bags of rice in exchange at the ballot.
They showed no resentment.
Left all their gold to the descendants
of a Mongolian war princess with whom they shared
a minor percent of DNA. I found a village, a republic,
the size of a small island country with a history
of autogenic massacre. In it were all our missing women.
They’d been sending proof of their existence—
copies of birth and not-quite-dead certificates
to offices of the registrar.
What they received in response was a rake
and a cobweb in a box.
The rake was used to comb the sugarcane fields
for wombs lost in accidental hysterectomies.
The cobweb box became an installation
to represent the curious feeling
of sitting backwards on a train—of life
pulling away from you even as you longed to surge ahead.
They were not fatalistic. Could say apocalyptic fatigue
and extinction crisis in quick succession
after several rounds of Mai Tais.
I found a village with a sacred tree
shot free of all its refugees,
in whose branches our missing women had hung
coloured passport photos of themselves.
A woman is not a bird or chick or anything with wings,
but a woman knows the sound of wind
and how it moves its massive thighs against your skin.
The sound of house swallowed by sinkhole,
crater, tunnel, quicksand, quake.
The collective whoosh of a disappearing,
the way a gun might miss its target,
the way 21 million might just vanish.
* In 2019 it was estimated that 21 million Indian women were denied their right to vote because their names were not registered on voting lists.
Tishani Doshi is an award-winning poet, novelist and dancer. Her most recent books are Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods(Copper Canyon Press), shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Poetry Award, and a novel, Small Days and Nights (forthcoming from Norton). She lives on a beach in Tamil Nadu, India. www.tishanidoshi.com