Lantern Review | Issue 9.3

Rita Mookerjee

Hamsapaksha, or the
Swan’s Wing Mudra

After days spent being ogled and answering quietly to
butchered versions of my name, I retreat to a thicket
by my childhood home where I climb inside a grey swan
claiming its body as my own. Sticking my neck out, I
stretch my spine until my face is framed beneath
inky lore and a broad tangerine bill. Gliding, I match

wing tips to my fingers and hold them in place like
I’m dancing Bharatanatyam and for a short while
I can be both: a brown girl and a grey swan, proud
and preening. Know this: I am no hunter, just a tiny
thief of affect and skin because in spite of musky pelts,
those jagged quills, I can move through the world

feeling weightless in this way. My prize is the blessing
of repose. But in the end, only one skin is mine. The pelt
grows soggy and putrifies and in this unbecoming,
I am the opposite of Saraswati: not atop the swan
in queenly grace but buoyant with rot below until
the cape of down slides from my shoulders, leaving

me dark, nude, abject. Deep in my pool of swans, I
whisper to the goddess that I am approaching a point
of fracture: a day when I lose this softness and safety
and face the violence of being spotted outright. For now
I’ll wear these animals and gold idols and runic charms
because the skin I call my own is streaked with danger.

Each of my beauty marks kisses the crosshairs of someone
who craves the chance to throttle, then shoot me at point
blank range. I cannot escape this truth, so instead I tend
to my downy cygnets, the other brown girls who hide
in plain sight beneath wings and beaks. I keep my fear
on hand, but someday soon, there will be enough of us

to make a legion of brown chimera swan girls who will
take to the skies and upon those hateful masses, descend.

Photo of Rita Mookerjee Rita Mookerjee is the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Postdoctoral Fellow at DePaul University. Her poetry is featured in Juked, Hobart Pulp, New Orleans Review, the Offing, and the Baltimore Review. • Photo by Betty Ann Hill

Return to the top of the page ▲