Excerpt from Karma
A brand-new diary
How to begin.
How. To. Begin.
Click. Click. Click.
I like the sound of a ballpoint pen.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
I’ll start with the date:
October 27, 1984.
Now the place:
Floating in air over ice.
Thirty-seven thousand feet, the pilot said.
But where exactly?
What latitude and longitude?
Is it Canada or Greenland
that fell away like a great sinking heart?
Is that a rising sun or a setting one?
The golden rays cut loose from India’s plains.
Where am I really?
Nowhere, I guess.
Somewhere between an old life and a new.
Every diary needs one.
A word of greeting to begin it all
the gentle endearment—
(My D bulges into the
margin like a soft balloon.)
Now, a name.
For the one who will listen.
Anne Frank used Kitty. The cat left behind, I
once believed. I was wrong. It was just a name. I
could use Smoke, my real cat left behind, but his
eyes are too pale. You can’t confide to yellow
irises and patchy fur. Besides, the cat likes to
carry the dead in his mouth.
Just a month ago I might have used Helen. My
only friend. Helen of Elsinore, we used to joke. The
face that launched a thousand tractors. But even in the
country, the beautiful never understand the lonely.
I think of Michael.
(I can’t stop myself.)
Backrow Michael, sitting behind me in
homeroom. Blue eyes. Blond hair. Perfect
white teeth gnawing on his lower lip. Angelic.
I imagine the entry:
I am flying and thinking of you. This is what I
remember: You took my braid and wrapped it
around your neck like a black satin ribbon. You
pulled my face to your cheek. You breathed on
me, whispering, Who are you? When you bit
my hair, I thought I’d die. Pleasure. Shame.
Your lips. On me.
But you can’t address a boy in a diary, even if you
There’s a black snake around my neck, Michael
shouted. It’s choking me! Everyone in the hallway
looked. Laughed. Michael pretended to wrestle
with my braid until I slipped and fell. On top of
him. My sari unraveling like I was coming apart.
No, you can’t address a boy, even if you think you
And especially, if he loves someone else.
This remains the simple choice.
The anonymous confidante.
Clear and to the point.
But then what’s the point of private words
lingering on the page, undirected? There must be
a listener. The truest friend, Anne had insisted.
Yes. A friend. And now I know.
I write the letter M.
Four strokes with the pen,
two peaks, a mountain of a letter.
The letter a follows—lowercase,
the necessary vowel.
And then I mean to write a t
and then a second a— a perfectly balanced word for my longing:
The name I call my mother.
But my hand slips or is it my mind? The pen dips
on the page, ink fading with the sudden upturned
sweep of a y. A second a appears:
The name that only my mother calls me.
The pen continues to move across the empty page.
Remember that I love you.
Can the dead really speak?
Through the hand and pen of the living?
A mother’s voice floats in from the edge of the
world. A daughter hears the whispers.
Or is it loneliness that conjures
the loved one from the ash?
No one wants to be forgotten.
Not the dead or the living.
I loved you too, Mata. But why did you do what you did?