What I Wish I’d Said Instead

Resist the urge to check your emails.

Even more, to answer.

Let the water cistern remain unfilled

As the shower emanates sulfur from the well water

And you bathe in the essence of the primeval.

The foam from your fancy shower gel

Will calcify into a dark film in the porcelain tub—

Let it;  this pair of opposites (the way clean can so easily turn dirty)

Can dance in technicolor, take up the entire screen.

Old pizza boxes—let them populate the untended recycling bin,

An occasional jostle sending a spray of crumbs to the cold concrete.

Serve your guests from stained, scratched china

And the tea-ringed cups that nourished you with their prophecies.

Throw out the ugly caked-clay heirlooms you didn’t ask for.

But keep the broken pottery, the worn yellowed glass

Holding the imprint of your first kiss, you pressed to you.

Don’t try to fix it in time; let it grow old, older, softened by memory.

The threadbare gown can waste away, shadowing a part of you that

Thins and ebbs into the night.

Succumb to the elements, which pervade the empty rooms inside,

Filling each vacancy with concrete, specific knowing.

Let the mice and spiders and roaches uncomplicate your interior

With their urgency and their unaccounted pauses.

As tumbleweeds of dried dirt, grass, dust, fingernail clippings

Drift in through the front door, remind yourself

That this separation between you and the processes

Under the wet log, always in a state of happening,

Is false. Say hello to the mycelia. The squirrels. The deer,

Who drift through bogs of branches and moss

And disappear into the maze of trees forever.

Write yourself into the poem of changing seasons.

You, like the moon or the centipede inching along or the frog

That sits in meditation in the folded-up umbrella,

Are just another piece of Earth, unswaddled.

It’s simpler than you think to rest in the soft grass.

To turn off your phone, your mind, and be transported

Into the sudden clarity of your own beauty,

Which doesn’t need a mirror or safekeeping.

Don’t get too caught up on the right color schemes

Or the way the light filters through the curtains

And gives you a taste of the scattered remnants of your life

Coming together into a slipstream of awareness.

Want what you have, no more or less.

Leave the empty toilet paper roll on its holder;

The hand towel hardened by wet soap, a little askew on the metal ring.

Only attend to the open palms facing each other

Like two small, shy animals meeting for the first time.

Treasure the space inside the sincere prayer,

The undeniable wanting—for what isn’t and might yet be.

Enmeshed in the unknown, let what breaks

Your heart open be your compass, the siren song

That pulls you into the undertow so you

Are no longer above it all, but with it.

Your heart, already filled with water, that

Sometimes requires emptying out before it can be filled.

Souvenirs can be put out on the sidewalk:

Your most painful memories can be salvation for

A soul that wants to lay itself bare before the mystery

Of another life, brimful with chipped teeth and worn paint.

It’s OK to eat leftovers more than once

And discard the poems you wrote at the age of 13

Because they embarrass you with their imitation of

Writers you’ve decided you don’t even like.

And you don’t have to faithfully photograph or record

Every treasured moment;

In fact, it’s better you don’t.

Get rid of your land line and put your cell on “Do Not Disturb.”

Don’t yell at children for breaking things that are breakable.

Let your life bloom from the wreckage;

Practice a philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, but only

When the rearranged broken pieces make something even more


Accept that 39 trillion lifeforms stalk your every movement

And don’t lament your loneliness, which is another fiction

That some bitter revenant from your past cursed into fact.

Let life and death be part of the same free-form flow.

Don’t screw your windows shut or worry about unlocked doors.

Uncork your essence and let it sloppily issue forth.

It, too, is a welcome stranger.

Collect the dirt that accumulates under your fingernails,

The debris that forms a sacred mound on the windowsill.

Talk to the walls, which house innumerable keepsakes

And the watchful senses of the unbodied dead.

Let the mold molder into cabbage-rose shapes.

Attend to yourself but not without wonder for the

Many unanswered questions of why some people

Die peacefully in their sleep, and others are

Wrecked and wrenched by unseen ailments.

Don’t assign causality to the nature of things

Or pretend you know things’ nature.

Be as patient as the inchworm circumambulating the

Giant grotto of indoor houseplants.

Take your name off mailing lists.

Follow nothing. No one. Except the crescent of visible sky

And the gleam of distant life it holds.

Get over your to-do list, especially of places to go,

Books to read, movies to watch, experiences to sear

Into your flesh memory, as evidence that you’ve lived.

Take umbrage at the thought that these creaky bones,

This lined brow and restless fingers, aren’t evidence enough.

Tear the shutters off any portal between

Your fear and the stark raving mad truth of this enterprise.

Pry your hands off your eyes.


Kill the distance between your thinking

And this unrepeatable moment.

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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