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S. Kavi

Year Three, A very random day in May

My Mallu American Girl Doll

I want an American Girl doll

Who grew up learning two languages

Her immigrant parents couldn't afford cable

Grew up with PBS Kids and Qubo

Stayed up late watching Mohanlal movies

Her parents translating the words

A cultural identity crisis in her teens

When she was made fun of for listening to A.R. Rahman

When her English was called “good enough for a brown girl”

Angry when her name was called "too complicated"

When she had to tuck her accent between her teeth and tongue

From slipping when she emphasized the last syllable her in name

The only Desi person in her college poetry class

Writing poems in Malayalam about how she missed

The sounds of her home

I want an American Girl doll

Who craves masala dosas and samosas

After going to college for three months

Keeps Maggi noodles in her snack drawer

Along with spicy fried peanuts and Kerala mixture

Makes masala chai at midnight for calming finals week nerves

Convinced her roommate to try the biryani

At the Indian restaurant that just opened in town

Talks about how she wants to wear a saree for her wedding

Who won't stop talking when she convinced her white friend

To finally watch a Shah Rukh Khan movie from the ‘90s

Translating every last word even with the subtitles on

I want an American Girl doll

Who is brave enough to go into that grocery store

Where the cashiers give every brown person

A certain glare to scare the melanin off their skin

Called names like “alien”, "exotic", "wild"


Whose hair has been called "unruly" and "untamed"

Just like her multilingual tongue

Writes out little Malayalam words on post-it notes

Her heart carries the language of her people

Whose brown eyes stare back at her in the mirror

Remembering how she is worthy

Hair and eyes and skin and all of her

I want an American Girl doll

Who is just like me


How She Learned to Talk 

Clean words washed with soap 

Suds rinse the melanin out 

Her mother tongue left at home 

Taking her new letters to school 

The shiny ones her teacher gave her 

Leaving her Malayalam brain at home 

Warming her throat 

For new letters to absorb 

She sings on to the post 

At the edge of the sidewalk 

For no one to hear her 









The shiny new alphabet glows 

She swallows the tension in her jaw 

Singing the song to remember the letters 

Teacher gives her a blue lollipop 

Changing the color of her tongue 

Amma gives her red candy at home 

After correct Malayalam sentences 

She hopes to be purple one day 

The bell rings for lunch 

Ham and cheese sandwich 

Bag of chips and an apple 

Just like all the other kids

She would rather have idiyappam 

With chicken curry and a fried sweet plantain If she brings “brown food” 

The other kids steal it from her 

Only to throw it away 

Home food gone to waste  

While still hungry from breakfast 

After lunch is recess 

Run and play and wait 

For parents to come back 

No one wants to play with the brown girl 

Easier to sit under the tree 

Than to be shoved into pavement 

Warming her throat 

For old letters to absorb 

She sings to the tree 

At the edge of the playground 

For no one to hear her 









Remembering her melanin 

To coat her throat before going home 

Left at school for her other tongue 

Taking the old letters home 

The muted ones her parents gave her 

Leaving her English tongue at school 


S. Kavi is a South Indian American poet, writer, and artist from Texas. Her work has been nominated for the Best of the Net anthology and appears in antonym, Culinary Origami, Metachrosis Literary, and elsewhere.

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