Mia Ayumi Malhotra

In a Time of Pandemic

Pacifica, CA

I stand against the sky’s endless curve. No landmarks
to speak of but sea, a limitless blue. Horizon, the light

that recedes. I walk the sand’s pockmarked surface,
leaving divots of shadow, collect broken mollusk shells

pounded to fragments, pieces to a puzzle that exists
only in suggestion. I trace letters in sand—the name

of the son I will never have, names of the daughters I do.
My name, my lost aunt’s—I smooth each one over,

start with a blank. On my skin, the ocean’s gritty
memory, its damp give. I come to the sea for answers,

though all I’m left with is a churning. Yesterday
my youngest wandered away and a neighbor found

her three blocks away without shoes. I raced down
the road, wild with what ifs. Wet, dark-haired, body

pounded by surf. Tell me a story about when I was lost,
she says, now that she knows the feeling of faraway.

I make curves in the sand, tracing the mind’s wild
or maybe making it. My youngest brings me stones,

gull feathers salted by spray. This is my carving rock,
she says and runs off. How tiny she looks against

the sandstone cliffs, raised fist scraping the surface
to make something—a mark, abrasion, anything

to make it known I was here. I am here. I am—

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of Isako Isako, a California Book Award finalist and winner of the Alice James Award, the Nautilus Gold Award, a National Indie Excellence Award, and a Maine Literary Award. She is the recipient of the Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry and the Singapore Poetry Prize. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family, where she tends a garden.