Train to Agra by Vandana Khanna

Agra-Fort-Station

Train to Agra
by Vandana Khanna

I want to reach you—
in that city where the snow

only shimmers silver
for a few hours. It has taken

seventeen years. This trip,
these characters patterned

in black ink, curves catching
on the page like hinges,

this weave of letters fraying
like the lines on my palm,

all broken paths. Outside,
no snow. Just the slow pull

of brown on the hills, umber
dulling to a bruise until the city

is just a memory of stained teeth,
the burn of white marble

to dusk, cows standing
on the edges like a dust

cloud gaining weight
after days of no rain. Asleep

in the hot berth, my parents
sway in a dance, the silence

broken by scrape of tin, hiss
of tea, and underneath,

the constant clatter of wheels
beating steel tracks over and over:

to the city of white marble,
to the city of goats, tobacco

fields, city of dead hands,
a mantra of my grandmother’s—

her teeth eaten away
by betel leaves—the story

of how Shah Jahan had cut off
all the workers’ hands

after they built the Taj, so they
could never build again. I dreamt

of those hands for weeks before
the trip, weeks even before I

stepped off the plane, thousands
of useless dead flowers drying

to sienna, silent in their fall.
Every night, days before, I dreamt

those hands climbing over the iron
gate of my grandparents’ house, over

grate and spikes, some caught
in the groove between its sharpened

teeth, others biting where
they pinched my skin.

PHOTO: Agra Fort train station (India) with the Taj Mahal in the background.

NOTE: The Taj Mahal is a marble mausoleum in the city of Agra, India. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, construction was completed in 1653 at a cost of 32 million rupees, which in 2020 would translate to $916 million U.S. dollars. The construction project employed 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. The Taj Mahal attracts 7–8 million visitors a year.

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