48. the ttk hot cafe

The calendar reads “Margazhi,”
a month that exists in only certain places.
Vignesh spoons a heap of tomato rice onto my metal plate,
and in the bottom of it I stare at myself,
hollow-cheeked and bare-faced,
backward, in the reflection.
Men lumber in for cigarettes,
nod, and lean against plastic lawn furniture
two feet from the highway
before the rain. Stalls like this come
and go in suitcases.

The man at the tea stall sips his chai scalding,
gazing somewhere above the calendar
like he is remembering a lost daughter
who exists in only certain places
and he begins to sing
as if his throat is lined with copper,
low ringing first, then filling each corner
of the peeling linoleum room.
He smiles at me as I leave.

I will miss this, like maple syrup,
most of all.

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