A good cup of daal began for me with a skip-hop-bounce

to market, hanging on at the tail-end of

my mother’s saree


Sacks of jute at the grocers stood

high as my chest —

some packed firm with kidney beans

some with beads of forest-green mung

or yellow mung, delicate and pale like winter sunshine


I trickled them through my fingers  pebbled river-smooth  a susurration

like the rustle of wind through palms


In the kitchen, Ma sat low on a stool with a platter of seeds

in her wide-spread lap

I leaned my weight

against her side, settled in to watch

her fingers flick like needles

pick out scabs, bits of stone and straw


She told me a story about the discards      how they travelled    all the way

from a field beside a hut in a village where the children run barefoot and laugh in the dirt


She washed, and soaked the beans, and washed again

until the dust and the footprints of the children drained away


Scoops of turmeric and coriander   from the spice box

made their way into the pot the passion of red chilies  the stoic balance of salt


Then the boiling, the puffing, the scream

of the pot-bellied cooker, its contents pressed

into soft-bubbled lava    seasoned with a sputter of

hot oil and cumin   a lime squirt, clenched in sour-bitten lips  a fistful of cilantro


I pouted       pretended escape   eager for capture by her gentle arm

Ma mixed boiling daal with buttered rice   scooped with her fingers   taste

of her skin  lilt of her tale    in my mouth as she sang, bite after bite:


one for the village childrenone for you