You and your mother look alike.
Strangers think you are sisters and
each time your mother pretends
to be flattered but will
later say: Next week is the week
I stop dyeing my hair
yet each week you watch her
spread the thick, viscous stuff
over her scalp again.
She never does what she
says – when you were young
she would frequently forget
that you finished school at three
and would run in late
sweating visibly through her cream jacket
in a way that embarrassed you.
You always envied the girls
whose parents got there early
and waited in the car park reading but
as you grew older
you stopped resenting your mother’s distance
and started savouring it. Still,
since you’ve left home
you’ve craved her fish curry
and the solidity of her strong arms
around your waist,
especially when you
crossed the road
into the path of a turning car
and the driver stuck his head out
you stupid bloody child
into the cold Auckland air.
Your mother hasn’t spoken to you
since you left med school for Elam,
the detritus of your relationship
in monosyllabic texts
in blank emails
in taut messages on post-its
and when you come home in the summer
you find she’s grown a uterine fibroid
The largest I’ve ever seen
the doctor says, adding that it might rupture
at any moment. When he points to the ultrasound
neither you nor your mother can see a thing
but later she tells you she imagines it
a grotesque flesh piñata waiting to burst.
In the waiting room she keeps her legs crossed
to hide the wild trembling of her knees,
clutching her copy of Madame Bovary
like a Bible. Afterwards she grows
fatter and more sarcastic and develops diabetes:
you look at her and it’s like seeing
something familiar yet distorted
like watching your own face blur
at the bottom of a swimming pool.
In an attempt to be cheery
you tell her that one day
she’ll be famous for making you.
Oh right, she says
kind of like Hiroshima is known
for the bomb.
Nithya Narayanan is currently pursuing a BA/LLB (Hons) at the University of Auckland, where she also works on the editorial team for Interesting journal. She has completed two creative writing courses with distinction at the New Zealand Writers’ College. Her poetry and essays have previously appeared in Starling, Mayhem, Minarets, Hainamana, NZ Poetry Shelf and ‘Studio Vignettes’. In 2020, her poem ‘Seven Things’ was shortlisted for the Writers’ Café Best of Auckland anthology.
Narayanan comments: ‘This poem was written, workshopped and submitted as part of an introductory creative writing paper at the University of Auckland. We looked at Hinemoana Baker’s “follicle”—from the collection waha | mouth—and were challenged to write a poem inspired by its form. At the time I was struggling with poetry as a genre: I felt as if it imposed structural, rhythmic and even thematic limitations that I didn’t want to conform with. But “follicle”, with its mid-line full stops and liberal use of enjambment, seemed to disrupt that notion somehow. I realised that poetry could be more prose than verse; that it could exist in the liminal space between the two forms. This awareness informed and shaped what “Hiroshima” eventually became.
‘Readers might be interested to know that the content of this poem is largely fictional. I think the dry humour comes from the banter I share with my own mother, who is one of the most hilarious, intelligent and insightful people I know. I was interested in the idea of “performance” in our most intimate relationships; in the contrasts between posturing displays of emotion and the vulnerability that often lurks within.’
Paula Green’s review of Starling Issue 8
Photographer credit: Aishwarya Gopalakrishnan