Sri Venkateswara Swami Temple, Aurora, Illinois

You tell me you understand me, that
you know where I come from, but
you’ve never gone past these glass doors, seen us
take off our shoes and leave them
on shelves, in a separate room
among hundreds of other shoes, belonging to strangers,
but strangers who speak the same language,
or at least recognize it. You’d come in
with shoes on, leaving tracks of dirt
around the shivalingam and the nine planets,
and walk the wrong way around Pillaiyar.
You don’t even know what an idli is,
let alone what it would take to invent
an idli-making machine, specifically to be used
at this temple – the profits went to pay
for garlands of flowers and salaries for priests.
You tell me every day that I don’t belong here but
we built this, we built this though we are foreigners,
transplants, transients, whatever else
you call us. We’re strangers
who put our shoes back on
in a separate room, and put on different faces
when we drive away. You say we’re away from home
and we don’t deny it, but why would we pour
a foundation, lay bricks with our names on them,
construct this landmark of a gopuram
if we really believed it?

 

Surabhi Balachander grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana. She is a recent graduate of Stanford University, currently works at Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, and will begin a PhD program at the University of Michigan in the fall. Her poems appear in Yes Poetry, The Wanderer, and jmww.