Poetry: How to turn the venom into amrit̪am by Ashwini Bhasi

Ashwini Bhasi has crafted a dangerous and gripping performance of erotic ars poetica. Every poem going forward for our team is now that “hump-nosed pit viper coiled on a dowel in the dark”—spilling poison, and ready to strike.


How to turn the venom into amrit̪am

Tonight. Go back to that load-shedding
++++night with the window swollen

from the moisture of monsoons.
++++Let the hinges of your thighs

creak open, spill light when you taste
++++yourself on his tongue. Shame

is a rusty latch that crumbles on touch.
++++You don’t know it yet. Go back

to that power-cut night, your fingers
++++on the windowsill

tracing the shape of a hump-nosed
++++pit viper coiled on a dowel

in the dark—remember it
++++unfurling between thumb

and index finger, no longer
++++an ordinary rain-soaked ball

now slurp the slickness of such
++++dangerous survival. Stop lying

in half-light, rubbing a misnomer
++++harder, stop molting this

into a frail poem that keeps looking
++++over its dirty shoulder.

These voices, their well-known
++++verdict you strain to hear

are imprints—crackling skin
++++of a dead viper crushed

between hinges, flesh long gone.
++++They lied. When they pressed you

between pages like a conch-flower
++++you weren’t desiccated to save us.

Let go of this urge to violently
++++wipe swollen skin clean. Our hunger

slithers without venom, without words.
++++You want to leave it

untouched. A silver bowl of milk, prayers
++++to a snake goddess, a temple

opening—you keep leaving. Come,
++++swallow it whole, feel it

in your throat. I promise you,
++++we won’t die.




Note: In Indian mythology, Amrit̪am (അമൃതം) in Malayalam or Amrit̪a (अमृत) in Sanskrit, is nectar of the gods—the elixir of immortality retrieved by churning the cosmic ocean using the serpent Vasuki as a rope.

Ashwini Bhasi

Ashwini Bhasi is a bioinformatician from Kerala, India who is interested in exploring the somatics of shame, trauma and chronic pain through poetry and visual art. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Offing, Hobart, RHINO, Indianapolis Review and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2020 CutBank Chapbook Contest and the William J. Shaw Memorial Poetry Prize from Dunes Review. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

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