Leeya Mehta

Leeya Mehta Portfolio


Rain on a cold winter’s morning
Stabs the garden where ladybugs and earthworms lie hidden,
Streams of dirt run downhill into the brown woods where the only
Green is the dull vines that cling to the bare limbed yellow poplars.
They have stopped playing light-up-my-screen
And she is closed up in her room, typing at her desk
But every now and then she feels the need to take her fingers off these clean keys
And dig them into the cold, wet ground and find those
Dormant daffodil buds, the red and black wings
That tuck into the rounded ladybug form,  
And sit under a tree with the deer fawns,
Waiting for the lost fox to return home to its den.
Her cheeks go cold, her hands are muddy, the veins
Of the earth throb under her small child-like nails.


It is the necessity of home that lures her:
The helper who dresses her and makes her morning porridge
With just the right blend of apricots and milk and honey;
Who takes the yellow besan flour and mixes it with water,
Spreading it on her face.
When it dries, her face is parched earth.
Whose body is this, she wonders?
In the forest it is the necessity of home
That lures her,
But one day it will be the place she is better off without—
Full of false gods.
She is not a good mother, let’s get that straight.
Even when she is with her children she is plotting her escape.
One day they will be grown and one day she will die
Like iron that will rust, this is inevitable.
At the beginning is the earth.
A mountain carried by a monkey is not a daily feat.
The earth opening up for a god seems supernatural but
Humans do this sort of thing every day: slice off mountains tops
Drill into rock. Don’t think she is special because
The earth opened up and accepted her.

Gray Jacobik, “Tide Chasers,” encaustic on cradled birch panel, 24″x24″x2.5″

The years

Sometimes I feel like
I came to the New World for the snow,
to wear my great grandmother’s Japanese coat
brittle from under use in a flat in Bombay.

My first winter we were crossing Wisconsin Avenue
across from the gas station at the corner of Calvert Street,
it was November and you were freezing
and coming down with a cold.
It was becoming very dark
and I was warm.
What right did I have to be so warm, I asked myself?

In the middle of another winter,
I sat under your painting–
sky the color of robin’s eggs
ochre hay, pistachio grass.

“This is my home,” I showed you in Bombay,
and we were happy there that month
with the bad turkey and the dear friends.
For years I do not return—
all I need is here. But you know,
the longing for what you cannot have
will keep you from settling anywhere.

Our child is the sun
you orbit.

You have a warm coat now, you are not sad
through the long wet winters.

You are trying to understand
the inevitable–  
you have grown up.

The journey away from me to you
has left me lost.
I know I cannot go on this way.

Through the coast of Maine
hand in hand with our little girl,
I lessen my hold on you
yet affirm that I carry you inside me.
You are a good father.

I am weak, grief makes me weak –
you do not love me.
Your strength is an affront.
It is inevitable.
We are practicing loss.

Then another one, fat as a caterpillar,
conceived in that bed in Maine with a bad mattress,
replenishes us.
You make me laugh again,
We are not what we were.

We lose our possessions in a fire.
People tell us when we begin to miss them
we will be back to normal.
I miss nothing.

The origin of love is like the origin of music;
one cannot know the music of the heart
until one has loved;
one cannot know what the body needs
without listening to the body.
You have listened well, my body knows you.

The ground in the winter
starts out hard.
Then the snow comes and it is hidden
under white layers that get heavier and heavier
turning to thin sheets of glass that crack and pack
and cut the earth.
The glass disintegrates in rainstorms;
mist obscures light from the forest floor;
the ground is clogged with water, it gives way underfoot;
magnificent stags, with brown antlers rising up in the fog,
guard the undergrowth, as if it is full of diamond fern.

We are not from this patch of earth,
we came from another part of it, but we will return to
swamp, this forest floor that brings forth your beautiful peonies
and the steam of summer.

The dance is on
but the music’s new;
beware the ice and
find reasons to move to keep warm.
Stay indoors sometimes and regard what you have with joy,
hold it close when it is here before you
for it may not return
with the certainty that brings
winter back.



The river comes to view in the darkness
A light across the bank is burning softly
The homeless are asleep, except this man
Who warms his face, as he drinks himself to life.
It is two a.m., the birds as big as dogs are restless
In their nests in the cherry blossom trees.

The fire across the bank goes out; the sun’s white light
Illuminates a highway with bands of speeding trucks;
Six a.m. again and I am here in a place where a
Restless morning sun is a measure of my heart.
I walk past an empty swimming pool and tennis courts,
Temples and school yards, neighborhoods with kumquat trees in front yards
Still I cannot shake you.

I tremble through each breakfast
My stomach ready for a race;
I lose my possessions on trains,
On buses, in the rain my slippers lie forgotten;
The gravel on the road is too real under my feet;
The swooping down of typhoons skins my scalp.

I can keep walking through the night
If you are here beside me, as you often are;
The quiet light across the bank carries a silent meaning
When you brush against my hand –
It is the struggle of those who fall outside of
Love and can’t return.

So far from our homes and from our measured safety
I choose a perfect moment I know I can sustain,
Not just blind love, but the permanence of love –
Love outside of you – for we will never be husband and wife
And I will never be the woman on her bicycle
Bringing home fresh fish to cook for you and our child;
Nor will we pop a bottle in the rain, like this homeless man,
Speaking only to strangers, never to the ones we love.

I watch the way your face changes
With the day, the wrinkles steadily spreading below your eyes
Because I make you laugh.
I watch my face in the mirror in my hotel room as the steam
Rises up from a tub the size of a baby’s cot;
In a few days of knowing you, my laughter has returned
But my skin is older, lined.

What is love, I want to ask. Is it steadfastness or
Is it the crazy certainty of gently carrying a
Steady state of nervousness?
It is lying beside you in the darkness never making love;
It is crossing from my dreams into yours and dragging you back
From night terrors that haunt you even when you are so far
From those who are buried because justice was too late.

At first I think you are less afraid of home than I am, but now I know
It is the softness of home that makes you hate it, makes you seek out wars.

When I leave you on a cold summer’s morning, clouds gather fast;
The final typhoon grabs my hair
Pulling me forward into my next life;
Left behind, you stand, amazed at the stars in the sky,
A million cells I gifted you to celebrate that walk
On hard cement beside a river
Where men never go home because they’re ashamed of who they are. 

“Home” reprinted from Origins Journal, Volume 2:2 Issue: Shame, Fall, 2015, with permission of the author.

Leeya Mehta is the author of the chapbook The Towers of Silence (Aark Arts, 2004). She is Associate Editor-at-Large at Plume Poetry and a guest poetry editor at Origins Journal. Her poems have appeared in the The Beloit Poetry Journal, Fulcrum, District Lit, Poetry London, and The Atlanta Review. Mehta grew up in Mumbai and after travels through the Arctic borderlands and Japan, she lives in Washington DC.