The Crown Jewel, by Mehar Soni

Dudley Randall Poetry Prize Winner (1st Prize), 2022

Mehar Soni

The Crown Jewel

My mother used to braid my hair;
her seasoned hands untangling my dark waves.
The percussion of the rain against the window;
a perfect counterpoint to her lilting voice.

With each pass of the comb, she wove a fairytale.
Stories of how she met my father laced into my mane alongside
fresh jasmine, gleaming thread, and golden bells.

She talked fondly of my father’s love of pakora in winter,
the British pocket watch he carried by his breast.
She called him a young king preparing for the throne,
or better yet, a military captain saving Indian lives.

She said he’d armed himself with Mahatma Gandhi’s
words: Satya. Ahimsa. Tapasya. Jai Hind!
As if he could rub the crown jewel right out with salt!

Her palms glistened with coconut oil, the smell
of Darjeeling tea in the air, as my plait formed,
molded by my mother’s hands, like Lord Ganesha.

When I asked where Papa was, she sometimes
pulled my hair too tight or stuck a pin into my scalp.
Ouch, ma, you’re hurting me!

She never told me he moved to Bombay years before.
Childish,         what a fool was I!
My father                 everywhere but here.

About the poem:

I am currently enrolled in Intermediate Creative Writing, and each week, we were required to submit a poem for revision. I was feeling particularly stuck one day, and decided to revise a piece I had left in my drafts about a year ago. 

When I first began editing, it was an exercise in imagery. I attempted to convey the scene of a mother braiding her daughter’s hair while bonding through storytelling. After several comments from my peers telling me to add more to this story, I decided to include a backstory that delved into the Salt March in 1930s India. I decided to name this poem Crown Jewel both as a reference to India and Britain’s history, and also to convey how this child was meant to be her father’s jewel, but was not.

I wrote from the perspective of an individual reflecting on their childhood: recalling these fairytales about their absent parent, and now comprehending their incoherence. Often, we recall painful events from years past, and there is a feeling of loss at how we bitterly wish our truths were different. This poem attempts to embody the song of this gutting emotion, juxtaposed with a fond, loving memory.

Sponsored by the Detroit Mercy English Department, the Dudley Randall Poetry Prizes honor the late poet, publisher, and University of Detroit Mercy librarian and poet-in-residence. Find out more about the Dudley Randall Poetry Prize, and read recent prize-winning poems, at https://udmercy.edu/dudley.

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