Ellen Kombiyil




How I Came to Love


I exist in two worlds, here and the past,
plunging into the waterfall and out,

near the limestone quarry I can’t remember,
blinded passing through then standing

back-pressed-to-rock behind water.
The sun is an interrogator

and I am running late, saying
I remember, I remember

the repetition pulling me under.
There should be a formula, derived

from the absence of water drops,
that would arrive me at two crescent moons

where lips pressed the glass,
a balcony door slid against sunset.


It was a game of Chinese whispers I played
with the tarot-reading parrot. She picked

the cards like pecking through crumbs, trilling Perhaps,
, her warning note loud as a tolling bell

with me beneath, holding the rope.
I heard it differently, Pourqoui? Pourquoi?

the question leading me backwards
down the avenue of the afternoon

to a wrong-way hotel door, opening out
instead of in. I entered in reverse, loosened

my shoes:  the boredom of noon. Light spread
like moth-flutter, capillary-thin

and I couldn’t remember, only listened
to the cacophony of seabirds, fighting

over whose-is-whose. In my pockets,
a reward. Cake crumbs from before.


The year I was twenty I walked home
from the R, my legs thick with summer,

and a man in a sleeveless undershirt
actually stood from his fold-out chair and sang

God Bless America when I went
inside his bodega for a carton

of milk.  But that’s not what I found.  
An overfed cat prowled aisles of nothing

but canned fruit, and behind a makeshift wall
of empty shelves, a space opened up where

bare-chested men played pool, where florescent
light spilled like arctic light, weak on exposed

flesh, their eyes on my eyes, balls coming to rest,
yet no one spoke, round bellies seeming

to announce they swallow meals whole,
my feet cobbled to the spot, I must

hurry out and down the block, past the
Chinese carry-out’s carousel window

past the always-shuttered club, Members Only
painted green and white on brick. That day

my heart spanned the distance to a date palm
silhouette, hung in the precipice

between what happened and what comes next:
an escaped parrot among sword leaves

dropped her fruit, and I’m astonished
by colors streaking sky, the knowledge

that fuchsia can look gray in photographs.





This is the worst time of day:  afternoon
sun slants on my pillow and melds worlds.

Your face paint in fuchsia and gold
was the plume of a bird perched on your nose.

N’importe quoi, that was years ago, before
the bureaucrats sat still to hear the universe.

Did I mention I like your mask?
You mentioned before not to mention it

because fuchsia’s the color of liberation
and a grown man disguised as an ibis

makes me want to warble in a vanished tongue.
Thy face is quite finely rawkin, I mutter

in sleep. Light swaths across the pillow.
Portnakwak, which is Verlan for what I said

earlier in French, is translated
into image:  the accordion

of collapsing houses evaporates
at a focal point in the distance.



Section 2 of "How I Came to Love" previously appeared in Spillway (print journal, issue 18).


Ellen Kombiyil is a poet, writer, and writing teacher. Her work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Revolution House, Spillway and Spry, and others. She has been invited to read her work the annual Prakriti Poetry festival in Chennai, India, the Raedleaf Poetry Awards in Hyderabad, and Lekhana in Bangalore, where she also recently taught a poetry and performance workshop. She is a 2013 Pushcart nominee, a 2012 Best of the Net nominee, and a Founding Poet of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective (www.greatindianpoetrycollective.org). These poems are part of her manuscript-in-progress “Histories of the Future Perfect,” which explores the intersection of astrophysics and poetry, and which she fondly calls ‘quantum poetry.’