The first time Lilian saw her siblings’ hands sprout from the fertile earth, she hid behind her father’s leg and begged him to be careful. She tugged his fingers as the infant-cries rang through the twilight of crickets and fireflies, telling him that they should hurry before mom came back from the store, but he didn’t listen. Her father looked down with watery eyes and knelt to the ground, trembling. He removed the soil from the newborn babies, took them into the kitchen, and placed them in the sink. Monoecious plants, one boy and one girl. Her father cleared all the dirt from their bodies. With a fresh towel, he cleaned their tiny hands, wiggling feet, faces, their grumbling stomachs—dusting off the tiny ants and soil stuck to their eyelids.
The village lay on the south coast of Cornwall. Every day the fog came over the ploughed fields and sucked at what lived beneath. Gweek would have been called a fishing village, if there were any fish or fishermen left.
There are people who express with songs what they can’t express with their own words. My grandfather is one of these people.
Papá José, as we grandchildren call him, is a reserved man, but he has a unique way of talking about his life and expressing his feelings. His hair is now covered in white and his face in lines. He usually wears a pair of gray pants, a flannel shirt, his old sandals and his light brown sombrero. He’s a working man of the countryside.
I visit him only once a year. Like many people from my country, I go to Mexico every December to spend Christmas and New Year’s with my family. It has been twelve years since I left home, the house where I grew up, the dirt streets and brick houses where I spent my childhood on the outskirts of Morelia, the capital of Michoacán. I went to elementary school there, then junior high school, until my family and I moved to the United States. So much time has passed since then. And now I have repeated the family history. Three years ago, I left my parents’ house in California to go study on the other side of the world. I can travel only once a year. The distance and time make me miss my family a lot. I question why we are constantly moving: Why do we keep looking for a better life somewhere else? This is why, for some time now, I have felt the need to talk more with Papá José, to know more about his life. I try to take advantage of every visit to talk to him and listen to his stories.
In this conversation-in-correspondence, TALIA LAKSHMI KOLLURI and VAUHINI VARA discuss Vauhini’s electrifying collection, This Is Salvaged, and its themes of connection, the evolution of the self, and the incomprehensible nature of grief. Kolluri and Vara explore craft, how work evolves over time, and the ways time infuses stories with emotional depth.
This Is Salvaged: Vauhini Vara in conversation with Talia Lakshmi Kolluri
The baby would be fine, Saeed’s wife said. As the family gathered around the dinner table for his special dessert, a beet cake with yogurt icing, and his home-brewed beer, Saeed agreed to watch the kids on Thursday so that his wife could have a day to herself. They were his grandchildren, too, after all. Although it was only his fifth day in the new country, he had already gotten over his jet lag, touched and kissed his family multiple times, and been given a tour of the neighborhood. He had also bought a road bike and signed up for a spot at the community garden. Now it was time to get acquainted with the grandkids.
The coyote ambles down the middle of Chester Street
and I mistake it for its domestic cousins
but it’s stouter, a strange gray white,
directionless, undecided. My dog may know
it’s not a dog because he stares blankly back at it
without his temperamental bark and growl.
In 1976, when I was eight years old, my Korean American father, a produce wholesaler and former farmworker, decided to become a full-time farmer. My Japanese American mother, descended from a long line of farmers and farmworkers, wanted it too. They had spent their childhoods dreaming of a home on the land, so we moved from Los Angeles to a tenant farm thirty-five miles away.
Like a booster detached from a shuttle, my body
Ended up in an ocean while fog enshrouded my mind.
Xanax never made me feel that unsteady; it just didn’t
Agree with Lamictal. I was glad my wife could cease
Preparing herself mentally before coming home; I’d been a
Rakshasa for months & appeared to be normal
Overnight, but the low dose made me immune to emotion.