How to Swallow Yourself Whole By Kanika Lawton

How to Swallow Yourself Whole

She pushes my hands into prayer,
my legs buckling underneath me.

I have always been so good to her,
always listening,
never talking back.

I bow my head, I mouth the words,
I let the holy water fall on my face.
I bend my knees to their orange robes,
to their selfishness,
pretending I didn’t see the younger ones
smoking out back,
pretending I haven’t already slept with

I never learned how to pray.
I never knew what to say, who
to say it to.
I look up at his gold face, his eyes
cast down, his smile knowing.
Idolatry idolatry idolatry.
I wonder what my church friends
would say.

I glue my hands together for her,
out of respect for my elders, for
my culture.
Always with a smile, always out of
What a good granddaughter I am.

Her friends envy her, envy my docility.
They only wish their grandchildren would
let them have a say in their lives.
She laughs with them, like she knows she’s
Like she knows I will never say “no” to her.

She wants me to go to pagoda again,
to pay my respects, to parade me in
front of her friends.

How good I’m doing in school,
how good I am at home,
how I always listen to what she says,
how good I am to not fall in love yet.

She wouldn’t have let me know
love like that anyway.
I wonder if Buddha knows what
I have become.

I am a makeshift shrine I destroyed myself.
I am idolatry I let her smash to pieces.
I am joss sticks grinded to dust.
I am covered in incense and burning.

I am always burning.

By Kanika Lawton


Kanika Lawton is a psychology and film student from Vancouver, Canada who is currently studying at the University of California Los Angeles. In 2013 she received several Gold and Silver Keys for her poetry and short story submissions in the Scholastic’s Art & Writing Awards and was the national winner for the Draw it! poster category in the 2013 Canada Day Challenge. She draws inspiration from real life events and believes profusely in the power of memory and perception. More of her work can be found at

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