Abstract Art and Other Concerns

Ananya Kanai Shah

Marking height on the concrete pillar in pencil and blue

pen every year, father pushing his hand on top

of flyaway hair so that we wouldn’t cheat. brother excited

the first time we were the same height, shorty mcshort shorts,

will you play cards with me? Once I bent and scribbled over

the joker in orange crayon so it was not a secret anymore.

mother shuffles the cards and lays them all face

down after dinner. The brilliant orange next to his window

by the Charles. In his office, father has a life-size print

of Rothko’s Orange and Yellow, boxes of yellow & orange

set against an outline of pale tangerine. I could vanish

into the depths of summer. Tangier, we always wanted

to go to Tangier, and the intense happiness was laced

with something tart. Independently I taped the same

painting above my bed in college, maybe forgetting

I had seen it before: I am so glad we have the same taste!

The Charles, green spangled with autumn, splayed on its side

with garden sparrows, father facing red leaves, the wreckage of birds.

Once I went to the Hilma af Klint exhibit at the Guggenheim.

Conch, clover, balls of thread unfurled, waiting for the Fates.

In dusk tones, I saw the spirits communicate with those who believe.

They offered her a commission: Paint for the temple.

I envy those who exist at the edge of consciousness,

conversing freely, generously with the beyond they don’t control.

How did the spirits pay her? father said, looking up

from his article. Gullible artists didz, said brother

wrapped in an armchair by the pillar. I was laughing,

same as when I heard that the new Barbie movie

is about a Barbie who gets kicked out of Barbieland

for not conforming to the notions of a doll, but finds

herself anyway. Opal and tourmaline skin light hot pink.

Barbie gets a New Age story, father would have chortled.

Jumping on the bandwagon! But the couch is white

and silent at five and mother and brother are out.

Ananya Kanai Shah is a poet and writer based in Boston and Ahmedabad. She holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU and a BA from Brown University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Indian Literature (managed by Sahitya Akademi, India's national academy of letters), The Offing, and other magazines.
Originally published:
June 7, 2023

Featured

10 Ways Ms., Sassy, and Jezebel Changed Your Life!

How contradiction drove fifty years of feminist media
Maggie Doherty

How Emily Wilson Reimagined Homer

Her boldly innovative translation of the Iliad is an epic for our time
Emily Greenwood

In the Shallows

Why do public intellectuals condescend to their readers?
Becca Rothfeld

You Might Also Like

The Return

Mona Kareem
translated by Sara Elkamel



Subscribe

New perspectives, enduring writing. Join a conversation 200 years in the making. Subscribe to our print journal and receive four beautiful issues per year.
Subscribe