ammamma, do you remember me? 

last time I visited, 

you stood in the kitchen

and willed your knees not to buckle

under the weight of you and everyone else.

we sat in a circle on the floor

and you walked around for us,

seasoning our annam with your signature compassion. 

ammamma, you touched your fingers

to my forehead in America; 

I did dannam to you and met your eyes 

before they clouded over. 

bangaram, you said;

I willed you to stay. 

ammamma, amma naaku cheppindi. 

she told me you were married at fifteen, 

that her father’s mother worked you

until you were a husk of a girl—

younger and stronger than me, 

determination aflame in your soil-brown eyes. 

she told me you stayed by her side

when she delivered me, 

working tirelessly as if to say

we were worth your life.

ammamma, mother India,

before the stroke drained the sunshine

from your skin you were golden. 

before the blood seeped into your brain

you were rich in your love. 

before it chained you to your bed

you gave yourself to your ten children. 

I wish I could have been there—

I wish I could have seen you flourish

before it took you. 

ammamma, my mother cried when your eyes met her

and you couldn’t say her name. 

across the Pacific she flew

to see you fight to keep yourself. 

I saw you and her, mother and daughter, 

through my phone screens, 

her struggling to find your heart, 

and I wished I could reach my hand out to help. 

reassure her that you were still here—

reassure myself, too. 

ammamma, the day you slurred my mother’s name 

through my phone’s tinny speakers,

the day she angled her phone toward your eyes, 

coaxing my name out of you and celebrating her success, 

I thought, this must be temporary—

someday, it will all be gone. 

you will remember me, 

ask me, school ela undi, bangaram, 

laugh at my halting Telugu as you always had. 

ammamma, as winters turned to summers

I thought we would build you back up. 

erase the blood from your brain 

like it was never there. speak new life

into your hazy eyes like it wasn’t

seared into your heart. 

ammamma, mother India, you deserved better.