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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Ancestral Alchemy

By: Saraswati Nagpal

A hundred voices travel through time

and blood,

through many wombs,

to hum the wordless tune on my lips

that dances on the kitchen walls.

It is grandmother's eye that measures​

 the cumin

And her mother's hand that sprinkles the salt

Her mother's mother stirs the lentils

Her mother slits the red chilli 

and remembers the scent of fresh coriander


With my fingers, she 

sifts rice

With my fists, she 

kneads dough

And when the red onions are sliced,

it is my eyes from which

my mother's tears flow.


Saraswati is a writer and poet from India. She has taught a variety of arts and literature for over a decade. When she is not teaching, she is reading or writing fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. Her published works are the re-telling of the myths of India in the female voice: the graphic novels, 'Sita, Daughter of the Earth' (2011) and 'Draupadi, The Fire-Born Princess' (2013).

"Ancestral Alchemy is a poem that was literally born in the kitchen whilst I prepared a traditional Indian meal. My preoccupation with female bloodlines, my interest in lost female rites and traditions, and the memory of my late grandmother's voice instructing me in the kitchen, all came together to make this poem. I was on the West Coast of South Africa, on a winter's afternoon, prepping a warm spicy meal when the realisation struck that every woman in my bloodline had probably spiced the lentil soup in exactly the same way for generations in Sindh, in Punjab, in Delhi, Mumbai, and all the cities in the world where this bloodline has travelled. The act of cooking on that afternoon became a timeless bridge between myself and my great-great-great grandmother and all the women in between."


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