Assuming the Habits of the Day and Night

By Vahni Capildeo

A new commission by Vahni Capildeo as part of the 'Crossing Borders' series.



They saw an infant
jellybaby melds triumphant
into shoulder:
child of elephant
child of mountain
nobody can hold
I this lighthouse, this arrivant

                                   Remember the oneness that carried through
                                   the oneness that carried you
                                   into being/one with them/not one of them,        
                                   tiny head a candlewick at the cocktail party?
                                   Looking back, a night of absent childcare
                                   that first reception; you were not yet two.


They saw a child
but you were making the rulebook
from the border:
where road meets slope
where slope meets sea
no driver can go;
(there are others) strangers shed clothes, nakedos

                                   The sea smells of gasoline and chicken
                                   and vaseline and sun cream,
                                   iron landslides/cool in nostrils/you bring the sea
                                   what it smells of; look straight down over unjaded cliffs,
                                   feel no fear inside of the sheer outside,
                                   it is also you, you tide in the view.


They saw a problem
but it was inside your body
which they could open:
she is too young
she can’t have bled
it’s an infection;
(put up your legs) your brother runs in the door

                                   Since becoming an examined being,
                                   you limit your family
                                   to those whose governance over blobby body
                                   sends you over its edge; hopping celotex, that’s you
                                   playing across the lines of ceiling tiles,
                                   easy flying out, less easy staying you



Home is where you close the gate against vagrants/ home is where you open the gate to some people you let into the yard / home is where you open the front door to make a fuss of old friends / home is where you open the side door to somebody who tells you about someone else’s home and how she did not feel at home because their house was Hindu and your house is not like that / home is where your schoolfriend just became somebody and your house is perfectly inhabited by a second, occasional, garish, obscured house that is Hindu and somewhat like that unknown, complained-about, other person’s place / home is where you tricked somebody into being invisibly somewhere that is somewhere she would talk about if only she knew how much where she was is somewhere else / home is where you take off your shoes and leave the dust of the road outside the threshold like the soiled garment of the body is dispersed as ash after cremation / she has taken off her shoes / should you tell her / should you tell her she has just taken off her shoes / should you tell her she has not just taken off her shoes / thirteen lunar months run above twelve solar ones and interweave with them / this is midday / does she know she is safe at midday / does she know the next day begins at dawn but in this house the next day has also already begun the previous twilight / will it be safe if she stays until twilight / when the light switch flicks on to the sound of sanskrit and your father’s voice makes the goddess enter / you have tricked her by inviting her like in a fairytale but you are not sure if you are magic or mortal or foreign or which / where is the border around the so rich field of liking that so far you had shared



Dar a luz: to be born is to be brought to the light
but do not wish her feliz cumpleaños;
do not tell her, either, that I let you know
that in the Spanish Civil War they shot her father
like most of the villagers; did they trespass
or were they pushed into the realm of the no longer mortal
hence unforgettable? The shot was fired
on her birthday; you must remember that
she remembers her date of bringing to light
in the blaze of death.
Anyway you are not supposed to know when a nun’s
birthday falls, because they are married
to Christ, and lose their names, and choose a name.
Yes, I think they get to choose. Why does she always wear
nun-shoes? It is part of her habit.
It would be out of order for her to dress otherwise,
being in an Order that wears blue and white,
and travels overseas; she has desired to go
on an awfully big adventure…


The thing is when one of the men said that martial arts class was nothing but thwarted sexuality and another of the men disagreed because fighting is erotic and theoretically homosocial you not could say a thing.
You could not explain how you have not been in your own skin when you were skin on skin with another human being and indeed had your heads in each other’s crotches when stretching after the warm up and before sparring you could not tell him that you do not pause to savour skin on skin or even feel the heat of the other person because having been transformed into a thing that acts as soon as thinks leaves no way back into the experience that lets you back out again to explain.
When the white costume is in motion with such a clean line that it cracks so you hear it you know from the sound like a sound effect there is action that is going right but you cannot see the film and this is not acting when you advance the edge of your arm so the sharp bone blocks it may cause both hurt but causes none pain when you become two metres of direction and two knuckles of surface you are concentrated you may be in contact you are not in touch it is going through you are the maths and machine through which it goes through through when the white costumes are in motion.


Damn you, I said in my head, but also affectionately,
I am not speaking of or as myself or for any/one
when I try to think feelingly into the girls who wear veils.
When you said to me ‘outward show’, not at all affectionately,
you were not speaking of my wearing white as a token for mourning,
you were thinking that clothing is put on and put off,
is separate from body and body is separate spirit,
but my every day is a being in of being
a mixity of worlds;
you were deciding that I had choice and had made a fashion choice,
that colour had not run out of my life
such that anciently and in other ugly adverbs and untranslatable ways
my body was temporarily and cross-temporally beyond being dressed or mine
but was one of all those who were ever like me in mourning;
and if you could have cut me through like a crystal, the truth of my insides
would have been colourless too, though you might have decided
to fail to see that clarity
and instead reinvent my lungs and my guts to decipher as crassness,
at which point my ichor and shit would have been your illusion.
There is, too, the amulet
prayed over in front of a thousand-name-chanted fire
by another dead one;
it was like poking my eye or bruising my clit
when the airport guard stared me down
and fingered it as if to pretend
it might be a poison capsule or travestied/radical souvenir bullet,
I felt it hold up my nerves when she grabbed the gold cylinder,
the metal hung in air
clasped externally.
yet more internal to me.
So take it off is not an option. Without trying, thinking feelingly,
I am not speaking of or as myself or for any/one.
​Damn the subtle body’s extension into material, affectively.