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A Diptych at the Seaside


She collects seashells, three in a row. One domed, a Buddhist stupa; another hugs the ground, an earthworm after spring rain, seeking damp earth to nuzzle. The third is halved, amputated, an orange tongue searching a mate.

A shell on land is life made nomad, seeking home.

She wants to live again in that house on stilts, taste the sharpness of anchovies dried on bamboo vines.


His pursuit of her, once, had thrummed like sleeplessness within the covers of a great book.

He is a purveyor of words, chipping at monuments, stupas of the ancients swarm his brain. Her needs tire him. The small talk, he is afraid of hours wasted, knowledge of giants undecoded.

A memory of wild hair, evenings satiny and humid. She comes from a land where women stand over rice pots, incanting the moon.

He looks at her crouched, collecting seashells, and sees. The bend of her neck lifting, marking the way home.

Dipika Mukherjee’s work, focusing on the politics of modern Asian societies, includes the novels Ode to Broken Things (longlisted for the Man Asia Literary Prize) and Shambala Junction (which won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction. She has been mentoring Southeast Asian writers for over two decades and has edited five anthologies of Southeast Asian fiction. She is Contributing Editor for Jaggery and writes a literary column for The Edge. She is core faculty at StoryStudio Chicago and teaches at the Graham School of the University of Chicago.

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