'Elements in the Periodic Table' by Sumana Roy



‘7.7,’ the blood report declares,
and I suddenly feel like a mother to my bones.
They, those lines and arcs, over which
flesh and skin are glued like a late promise –
my children are in need.
But my body is poor in its reserves.
From where is the calcium to come?
I ask doctors, consult the internet,
I behave like a teenager on a diet.
Every few minutes, I tap my bones
to check for the sound of a crack,
as if I was an oyster and the fracture a pearl.
At first my knee, then my wrist, finger on finger –
everywhere except my stomach, where there’s no bone.

I think about the many glasses of childhood milk
that I’ve emptied into the kitchen sink’s mouth.
Its whiteness is now a moral:
the basin legs must have more calcium than me.

Overnight my definition of poverty changes:
suddenly everyone is richer than me,
their bones more precious than all I have in the bank.

I become a living laboratory,
my routine a set of prohibitions: ‘Don’t …’.
I bend my knee in guilt like a repentant pariah;
I work on the computer, alert to the crime I commit on my spine;
I look at my fingernails and admire their sad beauty.

I forget myself in the middle of a lecture.
The reason is a sudden sting of envy:
the chalk in my hand, my tool and my prop,
has more calcium than I ever will.
If only I could eat it like the blackboard does.

‘But you never had children?’ a colleague consoles kindly,
turning my unborn into calcium sucking Draculas.

On TV, Michelle Obama is hula hooping,
there’s her calcium-buttressed hips.
I change the channel. Suddenly all goes quiet.
Floods, rain, bones, corpses; the hills
are breaking into landslides in Uttarakhand,
there where the gods are bathed in milk.

And still the hills didn’t have enough calcium?



I know that love makes us hypochondriacs.
But that its flag should run through
my body as liquid, a red road,
is always a surprise.

Iron, its deficiency, makes of me
a nation without border patrol.
So the easy invasion on my margins –
fingertips, underside of eyes, lips.
Pinch-press-pull-prick. Blood should rise
like a patriarch, out to defend.
Doctors scold, nurses become teachers.
But my scores never reach the pass mark.
8 or thereabouts – my highest score.

Anaemia could be the name
of a colourless flower.
Like zinnia or petunia.
I ingest things that bleed –
beetroot, pomegranate, liver.
And banana – fruit, flower, stem,
all that leave sticky scars on white.
Nothing helps. Nothing happens.

And so infiltration: blood in a bottle.

When I am discharged, foreign,
a stranger’s blood-passport running
through me, a feminist friend comes to visit –
‘Why is it always an “Iron Woman”
but a “Man of Steel”?’

Another joke on “dependent visa” is born.

About the Author:

Sumana Roy’s first novel was long listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. Her poems, fiction and essays have appeared in Guernica, Caravan, Cha, Seminar, Open, Himal Southasian among other places.