Poetry: Golden Birds

Poet and activist Anya Thakur writes about the beauty of language, culture, and creative expression.

A young Kalbelia woman from Rajasthan, India, poses for portrait. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

‘Golden Birds’ is a poem written by 14-year-old poet and women’s advocate Anya Thakur. She works to empower and uplift communities as founder of GirlUp Dallas, a UN Women organization, and a MetoWe partner with ArtRising, which provides arts enrichment to underprivileged communities and creates diverse programming for South and East Asian women. Hosting education, self-defense, and language and literature classes to empower rural women in Delhi, Mumbai, and Munipur, and humanitarian efforts with Myna Mahila, which empowers women in rural India through health education, her women’s advocacy promotes UN Women’s mission to ensure a fair and equitable future, and she has traveled throughout the United States and India to speak for girl’s education and empowerment.

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Her father named her Vachi. But she had always been Vicci.

Vicci, who collects buttery lipsticks she’s too young for, in shades of burning pink beset with deep crimson, sticky violet glosses melting on her vanity, and coral and apricot imprints smudged on a glass rim

Vachi has mendhi streaks on her palms and thousands of aunties

She’s doe-eyed and dark-skinned and is supposed to paint herself the same shade of the wall behind her because her family wanted a son and not a daughter

Vicci leaves sticky kisses of frosted strawberry lipgloss on her bathroom mirror

Celebrates the Fourth of July as if she was born here, as if her parents weren’t immigrants, because she’s never had anything to break free from

Except a heritage that she’s taught to be ashamed of and a bindhi on her forehead that means liberation to her and is a token and accessory to those who don’t understand it

They’ll tell her to avoid direct sunlight, so as not to risk getting any darker, not to bring her strange-smelling food to school, and laugh when she gives a speech in broken English and Hindi for class representative

Steal her golden-brown chapatis and sugary halwa yet flick their fingers at her cornmeal cakes wrapped in dhaniya patta

Still they’ll ask her to bring back little ornate, beaded boxes with mirror frames and fans of peacock plumage from “where you were born”

She brings a jar of salt water taffies to school because she’s “from California”

And responds with “American” because she is really, she is, when asked “what are you?”

Maybe she’s betraying her grandmother who soaks on the porch in rays of sun and combs through her glossy, dark hair with reverence

And smells like the almond oils from her braids and sweet incense that seeps through her shawls and into her milky skin, speckled with sunspots and light discoloration

Who’s diaspora will be recounted for generations

Just a girl

Fleeing Pakistan in a bullet-dented bus full of bodies and her heart thrumming against its cage during the Partition

And now has flour packed beneath her fingernails and twines sunset-red rhaki threads around her wrist, resting figure bracketed by coconut and mango trees

It’s east and west, saffron and sugar, and eagle and peacock raging for dominance inside one girl

Trumpets of elephants and howls of wolves streaking the wind and she wishes it were simple

She thinks of spangled stars and the delicate golden auras of diyas prickling the sky

And birds of fire – gilded peacocks fanning an ocean of foliage – foamy green froth and midnight blue crests of roiling waves

And eagles – thunderbolts that yearn to stretch their wings to the furthest corners of the sky – the harsh dips of their beaks golden arrows pointing at the sun

Under the tempestuous night

And she’s the swan queen and the sparrow girl, watching both soar above her in a dance of fire

She’s seen her little sister scrub at her elbows as if the brownness will wash off

And ESL students teased with words they don’t understand and can’t respond to

Mended her grandmother’s words guiltily and thought of all the stories lost

As her grandmother spoons rainwater

And coconut pearls into her mouth

And when she finds the courage to swallow,

the words slide of shockingly easily

“I’m Indian. Indian-American. I’m the child

Of immigrants. I’m proud.

I’m just like


Her father named her Vachi and she rechristened herself Vicci.

And she’s simultaneously a glorious clash of cultures and a union.

She’ll speak as loudly as she wants

And burn in the sun until she peels

If it will make you understand.

She’ll topple buildings

And remake them from the ground up.

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