Plain China

An Art (I)

by Pritha Bhattacharyya · Cornell University
"A Meal of Crayons", Bryan Rubin · Oberlin College

My first art teacher was my uncle

who was a boy. He, at fourteen,

took my seven-year-old drawings

of long-haired mermaids and flowers

and handed me the backside of

one of his exam papers, with

red ink splattered on the surface.

He then centered a chair in the

room – which I sketched – my brown pencil

shading over the blood-like stains.

There was art, in eating bhel puri

from a shal patha, the dried leaf

folded into a cone or box.

Lunch on his birthday was placed on

a banana leaf, a kola

patha, its face larger than mine.

Our fingers would wipe the slate clean

of our meal – of each drop of jhol.

At noon, our handmade kites would get

caught into clotheslines on the roof,

on petticoats and sheets dripping

water onto the cement floor.

I saw art when I saw my mother’s

prize books lining the dusty shelves

of the almari in the bedroom,

kept intact with newsprint covers,

so I didn’t know the titles

until I leafed through the pages.

Now I see recycling cans in

classrooms, paper signs promoting

green living. I imagine piles

of trash, and the burning of wood –

the residue ash that my

uncle would use to whiten his

teeth every morning.

About the Author

Pritha Bhattacharyya · Cornell University

Pritha Bhattacharyya is a Bengali-American writer who received her B.A. from Cornell University in 2016. Her work appears in Rainy Day, Marginalia, Litro Online, Poetry Breakfast, and The Blueshift Journal. She currently serves as a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal. "An Art (I)" and first appeared in Rainy Day.

About the Artist

Bryan Rubin · Oberlin College

Bryan Rubin is a Junior at Oberlin College, studying Politics and Environmental Studies. He has a passion for relaying complex emotions through photography, and enjoys creating micro scenes that represent a larger picture, in the hopes of blending reality and obscurity. "A Meal of Crayons" was originally published in the Plum Creek Review.