THE RETELLING By Yena Sharma Purmasir


first there was a fire test; Rama was not an unreasonable man
but he was a king
Sita had been away for so long and it made sense

he told her, it just made sense

when I was younger, I didn’t know the word for rape,
just the scary bits in movies, of women saying no
and men looming closer, closer

what happened then, no one knew

there is a big point in this story: Ravana never touched Sita.

there is a big point in this story: Rama knows Ravana never touched Sita.

Esmeralda is a not a Disney princess
in a movie for children and she is called, over and over again,
by a slur

Frollo wants the Romani people to die and pleads with God for it,
a white God
a God who has heard these pleas before

Rama is an incarnate of Vishnu
and he is supposed to be good

when Valmiki tells this story, he tries hard, so hard
to keep Rama good

in their origin story, the Romani people say India
the Romani people can say any truth they want

no one is listening

Frollo doesn’t want Esmeralda to dance
because he doesn’t want her to stop

Sita walked through the fire and survived,
turning flames to flowers

which should have been the first lesson
but the magic seemed safe

Rama thought he was finally safe
but it doesn’t end like this, Esmeralda on the stake
in a white dress

it is important that the girl is always in a white dress

Frollo saying she will burn in hell for this sin
or the next
Esmeralda’s body has never burned for anything
when I was a child, I wanted to be her, dark skin

and long skirts
the way my mother dresses for temple
at temple, if your waist peeks out from the folds of your sari

there is a lady who will pinch you

in God’s house there are rules,
she says
Esmeralda doesn’t have a fire test,

she has a near death experience
and then there is one man saving her
throwing her over to someone else
how come Esmeralda has to find love?

why can’t she just take her hooped earrings and dance

away from France?
Sita passed the fire test, so I never understand this part
Rama loved her, so I never understand this part

but there was another test and this time
she got angry

have you ever seen a goddess get angry?
this whole time, did you forget she was a goddess?
we’re not dealing with a capitalist retelling here,

Sita called her mother
have you ever seen a daughter call her mother,
ever heard her say

can you come get me? I want to go home

ever watched a goddess slip back inside the earth
ever seen a god-man sorry
does it matter that Rama was sorry

that he had a golden Sita statue by his side

that Valmiki promised, imagine a storyteller promising,
that there would be other lives
in another life, Sita doesn’t get hurt
in another life, Esmeralda can get married and stop

dancing on the street
but Esmeralda loves dancing on the street,

tells everyone she can’t stay anywhere for long,
tells everyone she wants to be out
but who cares, she’s in a white dress,
always put the girl in a white dress,

always wipe off her makeup and tell her that love can save her
have you ever seen love save a woman?
why are the credits rolling? I want to see

what happens when Esmeralda marries a soldier

I want to see what happens when they go home

do you think Rama ever hit Sita?
am I the only girl who ever wondered that?
right, Ravana never touched Sita,

Ravana never touched Sita

but Rama? Rama her husband
Rama is a god, right
God doesn’t listen to those pleas, right
look, no one is supposed to think that

Sita and Esmeralda are the same
not all brown people are the same
just because it looks like the same Halloween costume

doesn’t mean it is the same Halloween costume

anyway, the monsters have come out of hiding
and we’re praying to them
anyway, there is a word for rape

and a word for a fire test

and a word that cuts down a people dispersed
having a language has made us unreasonable,
none of these things should make sense

but everyone knows,
you know what I’m talking about

By Yena Sharma Purmasir


Yena Sharma Purmasir is a poet author from New York City. She was the Queens Teen Poet Laureate for the 2010-2011 academic year. Her first book of poetry, Until I Learned What It Meant, was published by Where Are You Press in 2013. When I’m Not There, her second book of poetry, was published in 2016. Purmasir graduated from Swarthmore College in 2014 with a major in Psychology and minors in English Literature and Religion Studies. She was awarded the Chuck James Literary Prize from Swarthmore College’s Black Cultural Center. She believes in the power of hard work, second chances, and, above all, love.

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