I first met Varsha Saraiya-Shah in the early 2000s, I think, when we both landed in a poetry workshop at Inprint House. It was being taught by either Derick Burleson or Alan Ainsworth, if I recall correctly. That was a long time ago, and I remain to this day grateful for the whim that made me sign up for the session in the first place.
I see Varsha now and then, usually at a reading. (Houston is a big city, you know, and there are so very many writers here.) Earlier this year our paths crossed at the launch party for Mutabilis Press‘ most recent anthology The Enchantment of the Ordinary, and she graciously agreed to share her poem from it with our series this year.
Perhaps I love this poem because I love numbers. Perhaps it’s because Varsha radiates warmth and good cheer every time I see her. Perhaps it’s because this is such a lovely poem. Perhaps it’s all these things.
IN THE HANDS OF NUMBERS
I ran into the whole of you this evening––
your blue onion-skin letter in jet-black ink
I urged you to write every July 17––
a reminder, I’m getting older
just the way you were.
Last year I had a foreboding––
I may receive it no more.
Me 59, you 89, number 9 our common
denominator we hi-fived in the air from afar.
How you and I talked of numbers as if people,
a mutual passion. And, their permutations––
5 and 8 add to 13. 8 and 9 make 17, my birthday––
loved the way you enunciated ––
sattar, in our mother tongue.
Lucky, you exclaimed when I broke the news of
my new home #1309, needless to say
the four digits tally to 13, of course you blessed
it with one more letter.
The Zero didn’t need explaining, our tacit referee.
We could zero in on any problem that plagued our heads,
on paper, in our pockets, on our finger tips after all
Zero is the beginning of us all, you’d say
and I would nod.
Your letter slept this whole year inside my piano bench.
Tonight I ramble on its chords. You gone,
major feels minor at the moment leaving
me in the hands of numbers, full of
promise yet nonchalant.
Varsha Saraiya-Shah is an Indian American with roots in Gujarati language and a financial professional. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals such as Borderlands, Cha-An Asian Journal, Convergence, Echoes of the Cordillera, Right Hand Pointing. Her poetry has been featured on local Public Radio and presented on stage by “Poetry in Motion,” a multi-language, multi-century dance program by Silambam, Houston. Her chapbook, “VOICES,” was published by Finishing Line Press.