In the pages of a leather album between moth-eaten sheets of rice paper, Mother rests on her belly, in a photo from 1952. She gazes in sepia and gray, five months old, wearing just her birthday suit. An heirloom glistens around her neck - a string of gold beads like jasmine buds. Her ears are adorned with matching studs, and you can almost hear the jingling of the bracelets on her dimpled
arms, the tinkling of the bronze prayer bell she clutches in her cottony hands.
Five month old Mother in the vintage photo, is an intact being. She doesn't fret yet about the grape-black skin that drapes her. The polar opposite of her own mother, who is sandalwood-rose, Mother is a monsoon nimbus - the lone inheritor of the atavistic trait that gives her her onyx hide.
Five month old Mother has no inkling of the uncharitable barbs about her coloring that will stalk her throughout her life - how they will lacerate her at every juncture from the moment she comprehends language. For now she beams and tosses her pinwheel curls, eyes gleaming like mahogany moons.
For a moment the portrait breathes. Five month old Mother seems to blink as the beginnings of a
smile distends her lips. In this precious sliver of time, her innocence shines untainted- no one has yet planted the poisonous lie within her that she’s some lesser breed of human.
Author's note: I wrote this
poem after my mother sent me a photo of her as a baby. My mother is a
black-skinned woman of South-Asian descent. In many South-Asian communities,
black-skinned women are shunned. Throughout her life, she was made to feel like
she was not good enough, because of her skin colour.
My poem references this colorism. When I saw my mother's photo, I was
overwhelmed. I thought she was incredibly beautiful. The innocent baby in
that photo was so oblivious to how she would be treated.
Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad is an artist, poet, and
pianist of Indian heritage from the Middle East. She holds a Masters in
English. Her recent works have been published in Neologism Poetry, The Ekphrastic Review, Nigerian Voices
Anthology, The Maier Museum of Arts Journal of
Ekphrastic Poetry, Poetica Review, Silver Birch Press, and several other print and online literary journals and
anthologies in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Africa, and Europe. Her poem "Mizpah" was awarded an honorable
mention at the Glass House Poetry Awards 2020. She is
the co-editor of the Australian literary journal Authora Australis.