Skin Tent: On Returning to India: Three Poems by Nadia Chaney

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Poetry Finalist : 5th Annual Contest

Floating Temple



the wind-kissed ocean smells private

supplicant herons on a white walkway

mischief taps
her lips with rosebud
tugs my headscarf
calls me didi. healthy cheeks
sharp my aunt’s sister-in-law:

the temple takes care of you

the temple priest wears tiny mirrors
to reflect the upside down
embroidered faces who petition
god through him

in his facelines debris of prayers
acid rain of prayers
the bulky clog and strain of prayers
sleep in his eyes and smirch on his collar

wish for my heart’s desire whisper
bitter petals rose push between my lips
peacock feathers tap my covered head
all I can think is god

why do i feel like I’m stuck to a flystrip?
help me, I’m drowning in fresh air

the crush from behind pushes me into him
the metal barrier between us cold
his body warm and fragrant
his droning prayers ongoing
scales falling like overripe fruit

home: autumn is tender and breathless,
cool and fragile. one frost will kill it
no one knows which (this reminds me of you)

I know this holy man
he misses god
who left him here
he has fallen in love like a red leaf
and now he must dissolve into the winter

the crowd inhales
I am returned to my aunt

outside the temple
trinkets and tracts
we regain our slippers






very private things
cannot be compared but

I feel
           I may
                      have mastered

                      the bucket bath

braided rag rug
tiles cracked
water heater groaning

ask the cockroach watching me

my ripe fresh flesh
floating sliver of goat’s milk soap
torn towel in the sun

morning songs merged
with the neighbour’s alto
           (I search the wet hair
           hailing rickshaws
           wondering who is he)

the green light of the warm
water as I pour it over my skin
falling in dense ropes
its fingers trailing down my throat
under my arms along my breast
sliding between my toes

I am heron balanced
Shiva dancing
like a peaceful thought
careful not to wet my cockroach
his brown wings gleaming
like an oil fingerprint
melting into another day



Fresh Market (I)



noise layered across earshot
           bird on truck on train on dog
life layered on brown faces
gritted between black teeth
perched on faded blankets
red fingers stained and re-stained
life lingers in heavy wrinkles
slides on damp cheeks

the market is cows, cats, a kitten, goats
a sparrow hopping on a hill of cilantro
releasing its fragrance, hops to curry leaves
a symphony, add cinnamon, add hair oil
thigh sized papayas and piles of red carrots
a famous film song pinging quarter tones
shattering layers with a coconut hammer

sleep at the corners of the eyes
layers of lives tucked
into dusty hems and low cuffs
faith on pride on resignation
joy on survival
food on child
silk on skin on bone on soul




Nadia Chaney has performed on hundreds of stages from the Under the Volcano Festival in Vancouver, Canada to the National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda. Her poetry has been commissioned by Sinha Danse and the WOSK Centre for Dialogue, among others. Most recently her poetry was published by Naugatuck River Review and is upcoming with Cherry Castle Press.

Photo by Nadia Chaney. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.