Wedges of white bread with the crusts torn off

topped with sun-bright circles of cooled egg yolk

often became my meager substitute

for the heaping piles of meat that constituted any worthy feast

at least in the books I read

If I couldn’t have sausage or pastrami

rippling with fat and the exertion of the working woman

at least I had my imagination

The solo games I played with myself—

Wish-fulfillment fantasies brimming over with jugs of dark wine

and steaming platters of crab legs smothered in golden butter—

quickly gave way to no hedonism at all

It felt, after all, inauthentic to dream up such idyllic scenes

(bereft as they were of conflict

or naughty fairies consigning mere mortals to centuries of servitude

upon plucking an innocent delicacy off a perfectly polished plate)

with all I knew of hunger and longing

So the last rectangle of bread, pebbled over by graying egg yolk

was hastily stuffed into a ragged paper towel

and shoved into a leather messenger bag

that I slung casually over one shoulder

eyes shifting right and left to assess all possible peril

on the landmine-strewn trail from the kitchen table

across the living room

(surrounded by loud TV, angry dad, and raucous children

just beyond the double-paned windows)

and up the creaky cement stairs

Home base, at last! (also known as the strip of ragged carpet

between my bed and the black-and-white TV)

so versatile it could be a dank and winding tunnel

in a labyrinth of arcane corridors

or the open road, bookended by soft earth and cloudless sky

In this place I could rest my weary head

unwrap my hard-earned crusts of stale bread

and gaze toward a horizon numbered by several pairs

of anonymous glittering eyes

In this place

no longer a slave to my greed

or my longing for palatial sweetmeats

I could evenly distribute my meager meal

to the anonymous silent eyes that lingered and wait ed

and although I might never know the smoky taste of

meat or the dark velvet of wine

my imagination was the witchy benefactor

with the power to transmute this pathetic tableau

into a feast made all the more flavorful

by exhaustion and generosity

and by the secret knowledge of every traveling stranger:

in sharing what we have

we triple our fortune

and in wedding ourselves to our longing

we court the infinite largesse of a fate for which

there are no words

or existing flavors to adequately describe

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

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