A cluster of sago pearls

Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad

Physical facets lie frayed, forgotten.
For the second Christmas in a row, there will be
no arching arms of the ancestral home,
no boisterous laughter at the family table. Instead, 
I will meet my parents at the bland banquet on Zoom
where my mother will be a disembodied ghost,
and my father, the seasoned stoic, will stay
brave for her sake.
I will watch them move like
two-dimensional apparitions, breathing
thin words of thanks to the benevolent gods
that have preserved our lives thus far,
and we will quietly eat our disparate dinners,
the dismal distance between us bridged poorly
by the pixels on a plasma screen.
For Christmas dessert this year, I will make
my mother’s favorite pudding - a cluster
of sago pearls jostling in a pool of
sweetened saffron milk. I will touch
their glassy irises and watch them trampoline
in their viscous world, soaking up the zesty notes
of nutmeg and cardamom pods. And like I did
last Christmas, I will pack two bowls of
my treat and knock on my elderly friend’s door.
A taste of South Asia! I will quip, as we relish
the pudding together - filaments of saffron-gold
swirling and dyeing the creamy mounds in
our bowls. We will sit in the summer garden under
the lukewarm December moon, reminiscing about
those we love - her family in a far-off sliver of Perth,
mine a whole continent and a yawning ocean away.
The southern heaven with its lace of muted stars
will hold space for the rawness of
our yearning. And together we will distill whatever
peace we can, two unlikely souls, feeling
and filling one another’s void,
silken skeins of sago pearls soothing
our ache, threading our longing together,
this second Covid Christmas.

Contextual essay:  I have spent every Christmas and New Year’s with my mum and dad since 2001. When I immigrated to Australia seven years ago, I promised my parents I would visit every year. I kept my word till 2019, which was the last time I saw them. This has been the experience of so many families I know – we have not seen our loved ones since Covid hit. My elderly neighbor has also spent the past two Christmases without her family. We meet up during the holiday season. This has given us both a sense of family, even though we come from completely different cultural backgrounds.

Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad is an Indian-Australian artist, poet, and pianist. Her art and poetry have been published in both print and online journals and anthologies including Cordite Poetry Review, The Eunoia Review, The Amsterdam Quarterly, Bracken Magazine, and Black Bough Poetry. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and multiple times for the Best of The Net awards. She serves as a chief editor for Authora Australis. She lives and works in Sydney on the land of the Ku-ring-gai people of The Eora Nation. Find her @oormilaprahlad and www.instagram.com/oormila_paintings



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