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 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.