“That Woman Who Comes to Clean”

Posted on by Prerna in Poetry | Leave a comment

That woman who comes to clean
What do you know about her?
She’s just the woman who enters your office after hours
Leaving your office nice and clean for the next business day.

That woman who comes to clean
Washes your urinals and toilets
Dusts your tables and desks
Vacuums your rugs and carpets
Mops your floors and tiles
Throws away your waste and garbage
Recycles your empty cans and bottles.

That woman who comes to clean
Her torn hands tremble with age
Her weary eyes reflect a deep pain
Her shoulders slump with the weight
of responsibilities too huge for her to handle
Her bones ache from the laborious tasks
Her breath comes out in short spurts
She sneezes and wheezes
The toxic smell of cleaning chemicals
constantly invade her nostrils.

That woman who comes to clean
She works diligently without complaints, without asking for a pay raise.
Hands you a “Thank You” note and a bottle of wine during the holidays,
Hoping you would not notice how she has slowed down over the years,
Fearing that you may take advantage of the fact that she is a woman
working in dark and dangerous places after hours,
Worrying about whether you would fire her when you find out how ill she is,
Praying that you would just let her keep her job.

That woman who comes to clean
She drives a pickup truck
from one door to the next
making your living environment
clean and habitable
for next to nothing in return.

That woman who comes to clean
She’s my mother.

I’m supposed to be brushing up on legal writing samples for job interviews this week but I had to get this out after someone referred to my mom as “the woman who comes to clean” in an email. I hope everyone takes the time to get to know their maids, janitors and other service-workers and treat them like human beings who deserve respect beyond “the woman who comes to clean.”

For more, read Angy’s Immigrant Mani Pedi.

Placid Pool

Posted on by Prerna in Poetry | Leave a comment

I am a placid pool
You look at me,
speaking volumes with your eyes
I want to drown in them
Even when your eyes seem to drown within me.

You chatter non-stop, from nonsense to sense to more nonsense,
I listen quietly, never interrupting your onslaught,
Instead, I hear what you don’t say, feel what you can’t express,
understand what you cannot yet comprehend.

Your gentle whisper like a cool breeze
upon touching me
causes thousands of ripples
spreading far and wide
I feel warm in this wintry breeze.

Your warm hands caress me lovingly
whirlwinds of sensations after sensations churn up inside
I lose my mind, pleading silently that you would find and use it
afraid of these feelings raging through me, yet even more afraid that they would cease

You ignore my half-hearted pleas
teasing me with soft and light kisses
I simply quiver under your touch, unable to move and resist
shivering, even as you paint my nakedness with hot kisses

Tracing contours and digging through crevices
strong undercurrents beneath the surface,
the ripples are invaded and taken over by violent waves and splashes,
seemingly relentless and unstoppable,
and yet even with happy climax comes a painful withdrawal.

I become still and stagnant,
my life and heart a placid pool,
such that no ripples, no sign of disturbance is registered
save for the one you began with your one look.
I am a placid pool.

Irony of You

Posted on by Prerna in Poetry | Leave a comment

Eagle Lake, Albany NY

I am asked to think about myself

Then why do I only remember you?

I start to speak

But my words are only about you.

All my paths lead away from you

Then why do my thoughts follow you?

No matter what the question

The answer is only you.

We are miles apart

Then why do I feel your presence next to me?

The closer I get to you

The further away you seem

I don’t remember meeting you

Then why can’t I seem to forget you?

I see you in every girl

And yet you are nowhere to be found.

13 Years On

Posted on by Prerna in LGBTQ, Poetry | Leave a comment

Rainbow flags at the end of the gay, lesbian, ...

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Half my life ago, I first made out a girl.

I didn’t know whether I was straight, gay or bisexual. At least, I did not identify with those labels. I just knew that I loved her and wanted to be with her. That’s all that mattered.

And I took a leap of faith. It is still paying dividends. I would like to believe I have the same courage and conviction I had when I was 13, if not more.

A small part of the narrative is posted over at Gaysi Family.

Your beautiful eyes, so captivating
Your nearness, so mesmerizing
Your touch, so soothing
Your presence, so calming
In your loving arms, everything was forgotten

This one moment is etched forever in my memory.
And you are forever etched in my soul.

Love. It’s still all that has ever really mattered.


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Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, Poetry | Leave a comment

This view of Earth's horizon as the sun sets o...

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I am going home today.

Going home to a mother’s American dream
Her daughter’s Kafkaesque nightmare
A father’s woeful abuse and neglect
His daughter’s fatherless upbringing
A timeless tale of young love
Now divided by borders and oceans

There’s the trauma
I’ll have to turn it into traumatic-comedy
There’s the pain
It will become an entertaining dramedy

Bi-coastal and multi-lingual
I’m a San Franciscan living in DC
The South Pacific flows through my veins
My heart is desi, my thoughts American

I’m all about laying roots
In a country planning to give me the boot

It’s queer
America does not want me
Nor do I want America
Our feelings are at least mutual
It was an arranged marriage without our consent or papers
An abusive marriage I’ve to fight to keep while yearning for divorce

I live for the day I can go home and tell Mom:
“You made the right choice by bringing my here. We don’t have to live like this anymore.”

Today is not that day. So I live to tell her that tomorrow.

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Pani (Water), Memory and Post-Colonial Identity

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage, Nationalism, Poetry | 2 Comments

Miles from a place fondly called home,
a small plastic bottle of FIJI Water peers at me
through the doors of a convenience store,
teasing and tormenting, begging me to take it back.

I reach out fondly,
only to jerk my hand away.

They say it’s untouched by civilization,
They say it provides jobs,
They swear to carbon-free emissions,
Then why does my body break down in sobs?

Water that leaves my people dehydrated and dead,
Water that kills,
Water that props up an illegal military regime,
Who knew it could have so much power?

Your colonial thirst for a taste of my paradise,
Highly dense and hyper-sexualized,
Life reduced to an exotic merchandise,
The blood of my people actualized.

This plastic bottle is all I have left of a place I’ll never see
With some half-forgotten memories of a country that doesn’t remember me

A Winter Vacation in Chicago

Far away from any colonized setting, glittering and shimmering, sitting on a river of lights next to Lake Michigan, with brand name outlets, world-renowned tourist spots, historical architectural designs, the buzzing energy of a lively place that never rests, this is Chicago, as urbane and metropolitan as it gets in the United States. At first glance, the city does not resonate with any pain, tragedy, or buried untold stories; it seems like a great vacation spot and escape from my own traumatic life. The city, half-imagined, returns to me each night.

Caught in a snow blizzard, I hurry past someone carrying a sign that read “I am just homeless and hungry. God gives to those that give to others.” Almost instantly, blurred images of a distant past flash through my mind. Homelessness is a part and parcel of every city and suddenly, I am not away from home, on any sort of vacation. I freeze, unable to escape my reality. This is not history yet, it is memory—intimate, painful, joyful, personal and nostalgic. Jolted out of my consumerist shopping spree, I realize with strange awe that tragedy, violence, a sense of belonging are not stuck in geographical space; they come with us in our memories, our intimate personalization and self-definitions.

Shaking off the feeling almost instantly, I walk into a convenience store to get some water for my sore throat. Staring at me through the sliding glass doors is a bottle of water from the Fiji Islands. Face to face with my reality, I stand there gazing at the tiny bottle as my mind once again loads and runs a cinematic reel. Half-remembered and half-forgotten memories from another place and time, now encompassed by this beautiful luminescent blue bottle, conjures up an entire history.

It’s problematic to hold a bottle of FIJI water with such nostalgic tenderness and pride, especially since it is owned by an US company, and yet we do it. When I discussed this with a friend from Canada, she admitted that she went into a gas station on her way to Los Angeles and bought a bottle of FIJI Water, because it is a Kai-India (Fiji Indian) thing to do. I pay for the FIJI water bottle and hold it as if I am holding Fiji and the history of my people in my hands, and coincidentally, realize that even the rights to FIJI water is owned by an ‘Other’; I am holding colonialism in my hand.

Indentured laborers from India crossed the Kala Pani (Pacific Ocean) in the late 1800s to come to Fiji. They called themselves girmitiyas, derived from the English word ‘agreement,’ which referred to the labor contract, while the British called them ‘coolies.’ The girmitiyas were supposed to simply serve as a working population, but by 1970, not only was Fiji independent of British rule, but the now free descendants of the girmitiyas were a majority population. However, as the 1900s came to a close, many more Indians (more properly referred to as Indo-Fijians) once again crossed the Kala Pani to seek refuge due to ethnic tensions at home.

I drink every drop of the water in the tiny bottle. My thirst quenched, my throat feels better. But my eyes water up.

Real tears aren’t the ones that flow easily. They are the unshed ones hiding behind hooded eyelids, stinging with permanence. And my heart cries.

In These Waiting Rooms of History – The DREAM of U

Posted on by Prerna in Discourse Studies, Immigration, Poetry, Racism | 2 Comments

Dream Act Now

i wait for you in this caged room
we’ve never met and yet
[you feel familiar
i feel like i’ve known you before]

shadows mill past me
moving slowly, drudging and digging
futures ploughed within these timeless walls
you see me waiting and yet
[i can’t get to you,
i feel stationary much like before]

what is this feeling
fluid and fragmented
but immobile by design
so close and yet so far
[you slip away again
i feel betrayed, more than before]

i tell myself that i believe in you
i tell others to understand you
[i truly do believe in you,
in the DREAMs of you]


October 24, 2007. That is the date of the stamp on our Dreams Deferred.

Categorically denied even before debate, subjected to another indefinite wait, deferred dreams have a crippling effect on morales and ambitions.

20 million — that is the estimated number of us all over the world. Picked and tucked into the battle for our lives–Sorry, you don’t get guns and armor. Thrown into the deep end of the ocean so swim or you will drown–Sorry, no swimming lessons available. Underprivileged and underclass–sorry, no financial aid available. Illegal in our homes, legal away from our land–sorry no relief available.

Like the farmer that waits for the drought to end, like the mother that eagerly waits the birth of her child, like the student that cannot wait to turn 18 and gain ‘freedom,’ like the many American people who can see no further than ‘change’ with a new Administration, we too have been in for a long haul, a long stay in these waiting rooms of history

To DREAMers across America — I know this wait is the hardest time. I know life in limbo is harsh like life in a prison, only you have committed no crime. But remember, we have the power to make this wait productive, to take this time as a test–a character-building exercise– and to end this wait. Take each defeat as a learning lesson, as a challenge to do better and get better till you beat every test.

Do not despair. Do not be afraid. Do not give up. Stay true to your DREAMs.

L is for Liminal – DREAM poem

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, Poetry, Racism | 2 Comments

I am paperless,
A refugee in my own land, homeless
Freeze-framed and lifeless,
In-limbo, my existence timeless
But never fear, certainly not peerless

In the waiting rooms of history,
A growing community
Sharing and caring,
Joking, laughing, ribbing, riling.
But never despairing
We are strong, kind and capable
Our DREAMs quite inevitable

They want to punish, banish and vanish
guilt us for crimes we have not commited, What rubbish?
their vile hate speech so Outlandish
Try as they might to tarnish and diminish
We shall try harder to establish and accomplish.

We shall become doctors and lawyers,
engineers and teachers,
managers and leaders,
movers and shakers.

You STILL say Illegal is illegal?
I say your ignorance is abysmal.

The flawed logic of either/or – Creating spaces for intervention

Posted on by Prerna in Discourse Studies, Poetry | 2 Comments

black/white, straight/gay, women/men, left/right, us/them, American/Un-American, nativist/humanist, legal/illegal, liberal/conservative anti-corporate/anti-labor, capitalism/communist, butch/femme, inside/outside, developed/undeveloped, top/bottom, public/private…

Our world is tainted in simplistic, dualistic undertones since we are young and we grow up conditioned to think in this manner. It starts from the household where pink is for girls and blue is for boys going all the way to the President where you are either with him or against him and there is no middle ground, no space to negotiate and intervene.

This blog is a reflection of my personal and political philosophy. I am not concerned with whether anyone subscribes to it or not; for me, it is about building a space without the pervasive duality and dichotomy of everyday discourses. And if that space is only occupied by the presence of few, that is fine with me as well. The point is to make ruptures and disruptions in these hegemonic continuous, cyclical modes of thinking.

The intellectual work that tested my limits was Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject.

Saba Mahmood rejects secular liberal feminist theory and practices that cast religion (in this case, Islam), as opposed to the interests of women. Through her particular field study of the grassroots women’s piety movements in the mosques of Cairo between 1995 and 1997, Mahmood aims to provide a stark contrast to the often secular liberal depictions of women’s movements. In doing so, she questions the age-old ethnocentric notions of secular liberal feminism that requires feminism and women’s movements to be framed as opposed to structures of patriarchy and power i.e. religion and going a step further, the nation-state project. Mahmood does away with these notions of ethical norms, agency and freedom, thereby posing conceptual problems for secular feminists who would otherwise continue to push for the liberation of women from Islam and actual structures of power in order to achieve their warped-up notions of liberal emancipation of women.

I wrestled for days with this book. Essentially Mahmood was saying that feminism and being political need not denote the emancipation of women from patriarchal structures like religion and the nation-state. Women do not have to completely reject structures of power to actually carve a space and voice for themselves, and thereby work towards transforming it as the women in the piety movement carved spaces for themselves within a traditionally male sphere. I finally realized that juxtaposing Mahmood’s text with secular liberal feminism need not mean that I had to choose or submit to one. I did not and neither do you. Sometimes the questions are more enlightening than the answers to them.

So when I read comments like “how can you be anti-corporate and still pro-exploitation of cheap labor from the Third World?” it is immediately marked as spam. Maybe I should take the time to respond, to expose conditioned minds to different ways of thinking about issues, to bury the either/or in an intellectual manner. Then again, the title of the blog should be clue enough — I do not do either/or and will not submit to that discourse.

You do not need to choose between being pro-amnesty and pro-American. You need not choose between an “illegal alien” and a U.S. citizen. And you definitely do not have to be pro-migrant or anti-migrant. Focus on the becoming, not the being.

When I speak about bridges, I am referring to a metaphor for fluidity, change, channeling, multiple levels of positioning that culminate into a meeting point. I am not speak of ONE compromise or middle point–I am comfortable with no resolutions. Call it folly or postmodern emancipation. I am comfortable in-limbo; after all, that is my conditioning, no?

I realize I am flawed — There are certain categories I hold dear that I did not choose for myself. At times my patience is tested and I do slip up with the anti-_______. And I will not offer love or compassion to those who hate me because of some category, label, classification, documentation, physical feature, or preference. No, I am not a Gandhi or MLK and do not wish to go down that path. It is a tit for tat when it comes to me. But I will agree to disagree heartedly.

How this feels…

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration, Poetry | Leave a comment

This was written a long while ago

Ever wonder what compels a person to go to bed every night wishing that they wouldn’t see tomorrow? Lay in bed and watch the clock as the seconds tick by, turn into minutes and the minutes turn into hours?
Maybe its fear of bad outcomes, dread about something upcoming, maybe its immense physical or emotional pain or maybe the person is just psychotic?

But what if it is none of the above? What if its something very ironic – what if for this person, time doesn’t mean seconds, minutes, hours, days or months, but they are stuck in a moment where time has come to standstill? So this person is alive, but not really living? That the tomorrow of tonight is simple a promise betrayed?
A normal person would love to be in a timeless existence and to keep to themselves and do whatever they want while having their clothes, food, shelter, and even their laundry done for them. But what if this person isn’t normal? What if they have great potential, extraordinary intelligence and a noble character underneath a brittle surface? And what if instead of doing what they were born to do, they desperately seek solace and comfort in things they wouldn’t normally do?

What happens when the ones closest to you, the ones that gave birth to you and the ones that claim to love you and stand by you forever, betray you in a way that you question every existing relationship? Why are virtual strangers in distant lands apparently privy to your most intimate emotions more so than those who claim to know you in person but don’t really know anything about you? What happens when life and time begin to move virtually? When you only live and think in a timeless virtual existence, much like the Phantom Zone?
Is it better than the daily struggles of life? Working 8-5, coming home to cook and clean, tending to people and relationships?

To top it off, what happens while you are in the Phantom Zone and the people around you are on a different time plane, and continue to be moronic and ask stupid questions that you can answer more intelligently even without being in their world?

What if you know your potential will always remain inside and buried, slowly killed off by dispassion due to the timeless existence? Freedom means another place, another time, another identity, another type of society, another mode of production – the combination of impossible anomalies.

This brings up a compelling question. Is life really than an imprisonment? Vacations, chocolates, television sets and forays into illegitimate relationships an escape from captivity? Do we not all console ourselves at some point of our education and career that it all gets better one day? That we won’t have to work so hard, be in a better position and be able to afford a lot more? At what point are we free from the struggles of daily life, free from tangled relationships, free from the judgment of people and society, free from norms and values, free from war, disease, poverty and hunger? Does freedom then become elusive, a state of being rather than a material condition that can be conceptualized and actualized?
Are we just like the spider on the cobweb which spins long, complex and intricate webs but will always be stuck in the confines of one small place until they die?

What happens when the spinning in our heads reaches this conclusion over and over and over?
It’s when you go to bed at night wishing for everything to end.