Prithiva Sharma

Ode to Family Dinners

four plates, three steel glasses, two bottles of water, one empty seat.
dinner is served.
i sit for dinner with my parents, and I don't know the first thing about love
which is strange - a minute ago i was falling like sweat drops on my phone screen
as i hid in the bathroom to text you
(the dining room has two fans)

the only way i've ever seen love is in the way dad doesn't ask for another roti
and mom doesn't offer him one
instead, she adds another to the pile of two on the plate set out for the empty seat
laid out for my brother who mastered the art of missing stifling conversations at thirteen
(he will be fourteen tomorrow)

my father doesn't use a glass; he doesn't need water during the meal and once he gets up
he can reach to drink directly from the bottle, out of my mother's line of sight
that feels compelled to stop him. our house has rules the makers themselves loathe
following
he sits not as the head of the table
but more as a maker of cacophony - creating noises as he repeatedly clinks his spoon
against the plate
it's his loudness that lets my brother know when it is safe to enter the territory - which is,
after he's done and gone.
father doesn't need water because he eats light; he likes eating.
just two rotis, a dal, veggies on demand, my smiles, my mother's criticisms and my
brother's avoidance. a balanced meal he has been eating for two decades now.
my mother is silent. she eats with her hands, close to the food she made,
touch before taste, texture before spice; it's her legacy - faded palms from years of making
and eating and washing with hands.
legacy that she forgot to pass down to me.

when i sit there, i can't know the first thing about love, let alone to be able to love,
let alone to be able to love you - the same as me except with longer hair,
smaller eyes, painted nails; the same as me except with answers other than violence
knuckles that aren't bleeding, palm up, open, offering me your long hair to use as a noose

mother drinks boiled water - the gas stove a fire that burns inside her and the water
her resentment.

father and mother haven't been mom and dad for a long while now; they love in silences
which may be born from twenty-five years of marriage
where they lost vocabulary.
father and mother love in shared sabzis leftover from yesterday and martyrdom in saving
fresh curries for others.
i love in hiding, like my tryst with sabzis i don't like and hide in the fridge.
none of us talk about what the dinner table knows. silence is safer.

my love for you is temporarily out of service.

ABOUT THE POET

Prithiva is a student, currently pursuing her MA in Literary Art. She is an Editor for Teen Belle Mag and Nightingale & Sparrow. She spends her time reading fanfiction and procrastinating on everything else. Her work has previously appeared in Lihaaf Journal and Wellington Street Review, among others and can be found at https://campsite.bio/prithuwu and on Instagram @prithuwu.