Anuradha Bhowmik

Receipts from AOL Instant Messenger (3)

1 scrunch (v.):
She communicated in shades of blue. Once she
Caught me with the blue bottle of Got2B hair gel. I bought it with my own money, I said. Ma
Replied, Is that what your white friends taught you? There were blows before I fell. The carpet was red.
Under her foot, she trapped my wet hair: all of it pulled back into a ponytail. No time for gel. I had
No doubts about her next steps when the alpha dog gripped the gel bottle like a gavel. Her
Correspondence was color-coded, her verdict signed in blue. Your own money? Not in my
House. She stamped me with blues. The bottle didn’t break. Nothing could ever stop her.



Jesse McCartney Live in Atlantic City, 2017

Dear Jesse / after you performed at the club at Harrah’s / I made it onto your Instagram / in the photograph I stand front row / with severe inebriation / the herd of white girls behind me smiles widely / with arms out to you / the blonde beside me sings into the mic that you’ve held out to her / and I don’t notice her / or you / instead I stare at my phone / unfazed / my face in its resting bitch state

Dear Jesse / in the early 2000s your teen idol status was cemented / and I worshipped you / along with all the white girls in middle school / the white girls told me I was too Indian / the white girls told me to shrink my thighs and buy Limited Too jeans / to measure up to them

Dear Jesse / back then I wanted to trade lives with the white girls / I wanted to learn / how to drown out Ma / her Bengali invective / her brute force that left my bedroom lock broken / Dear Jesse / I’d press play on the CD player / push my back against the door / put the volume on max / and listen to the tracks on Beautiful Soul / the album with your black and white photograph / I’d imagine my life if I was pretty enough for you / for anyone / if I was happy

Dear Jesse / I took blows trying to keep your posters on my bedroom walls / beside glow-in-the-dark stars

Dear Jesse / I’m 24 now and you’ve hit 30 / after you sang we took a selfie / I looked good wearing false lashes for the first time / and your foundation didn’t match your neck / Dear Jesse / back in the day / you were blonde-haired green-eyed and hot as hell / but you faded away with the other heartthrobs in your wave

Dear Jesse / I once thought a white boy was the best a girl could get / but dating them has only taught me regret / now I curve white men like it’s my occupation

Dear Jesse / I’m blessed to have grown up ugly / I’m aging gracefully / while you and your carbon copy white girls / lose collagen day by day / I once considered white women my competition / I was so rehearsed in Eurocentric / Jesse / they can have you



Receipts from AOL Instant Messenger (5)

Bhowmikky (n.):

Baba never hit me. From him, I acquired my last name. To survive, he lent me amnesia.
He fueled the light in my memory. The cerebellum regulates language production and procedural learning—
Our routine was mechanical. Ma hits you because she loves you. She spoke with swollen marks and fists as punctuation.
While I called for Baba in two syllable units, he listened to the TV talk. Garbled phonetic parts fell from
My mouth while Ma’s throat rang with taut vocal cords. I was nourished by imperatives. Apologize to her, now.
I pressed my forehead to Ma’s feet. So we can have peace in this house again. Afterwards, Baba drove me to
Kmart. I offered my apologies as barter—I said sorry, and he bought me a mood bracelet
Kit. I said sorry to get the gel pens with glitter. With enough compensation, I could fill my voids. If only my
Younger self could return those gifts. If only I could unlearn the dialect that I translated as love.



I Tried To Be a Good Bangladeshi Girl

before ma crushed the lancôme blush against my skull
before I prepped for sexy time a decade prior to the possibility

before the white girls in middle school established definitions for the four bases
before the burn book & the clique series provided guidelines for being a cunt

before 9/11 made me the polaroid of a terrorist
before I became the wrong kind of brown

before the little league softball team truncated me to addy
before the jv team printed anaconda on the back of my jersey

before I took two out-of-school suspensions
before I worried I’d end up in juvie

before I wore the aéropostale polo with the butterfly logo
before I unbuttoned the polo in the bathroom stall at school

before I tried to pass as the right kind of brown
before I walked ahead of ma in public

before other bangalis mistook me as latina
before my fingernails peeled from the acrylics

before I illustrated my lack of impulse control at school
before I buried my fists inside my skull

before lala by ashlee simpson became my favorite song
before I knew the song was about masturbation

before the white girl made a grade-wide psa that I got my period
before I asked yahoo answers about tampon insertion

before my friends & I took photos of us sticking out our tongues
before ma tore up the photos & called my friends sluts

before I knew I was an abomination in the eyes of thakur
before the guidance counselor knew about ma & did nothing

before ma caught me dancing to young jeezy in my bedroom
before ma caught me in the black bikini with rhinestones

before ma & baba’s threats to send me to foster care
before I recognized baba’s complicity

before ma saw my friends talking to boys after school
before ma drove me home & said cut the friendship in english

before I drew devil horns on ma’s self-portrait from bangladesh
before ma cried

before I wore pigtails with denim skirts
before I turned twelve & entered the world of the catcall

before I stopped talking to ma & baba in bangla
before english vitriol scorched my vocal cords

before ma fired back with bengali invective
before I struggled to tell ma I loved her

before I grew three inches taller than ma
before I lost each strand of my childhood vocal cords

before I learned about the blood-brain barrier
before I became my only defender



First Comes Poetry, Then Comes Makeup

I can’t say I hate what I see
in the mirror & no I don’t
make my face flawless for
the male gaze that can’t even
detect the difference between

MAC’s Ruby Woo & Russian Red
& yes I have a women’s studies
degree & yes I was informed that
the beauty industry supports
the patriarchy & shames female aging

& while I consider that to be more
of a white feminist fixation, makeup
is my own shit, my second art,
the perfect counterpart to my alter ego:
the beauty addict, the bad bitch,

the freak & yes this obsession
stems from respectability politics
& being born a brown female
who happens to like women
& yes a brown female is in fact

chained to compulsory heterosexuality
in its most restrictive form.
I know the terms & conditions,
the burden of this body—
please forgive me for

the disconnect between my outer
& inner selves, for my permanent mental
violence. my second art is the closest
I’ll ever get to having any other
body, any other life than this one

& when brown heteropatriarchy
coerces me to marry a man,
I refuse to compromise on my plot
to marry a tall motherfucker
who will be hot enough

to hold my hand in public &
rich enough to subsidize my trips
to Sephora & Ulta without hesitation.
my type of man is wealth, status,
reputation. my man is the perfect

counterpart to this body
set to atrophy. if my second art
was meant for men, then this
consumer-driven coping mechanism
would be less about femmes

& more about manipulating him
& him & him in his own world
repeatedly. but first comes writing.
the first art allows for direct access
into the limbic system. after my

first art parses my archaeology,
my second art keeps me sane—
it tames my ingrained guilt,
the conflagration in my poet brain
that tells me that if God is real,

he fucking hates me
& every man that could’ve
or couldn’t love me fucking hates
me & I don’t deserve anything
I’ve ever wanted. my second art

is mechanical. it follows procedure,
while my body & my brain
remain insubordinate. human beings
adopt countless methods
for survival, to temporarily tolerate

distress. my second art keeps me
glossed. preserve this glaze.
I am not whole & I do not know
which version of myself to accept
& no this is not sustainable

& yes this is a man’s world & yes
my second art is still mine—
my Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation,
my Urban Decay Perversion
mascara, my Glossier Boy Brow,

my mouth painted Androgyny,
my Trophy Wife highlight,
my Frat Boy blush, my matte black
Stay All Day cat eye, my Cocoa
Contour Chiseled to Perfection,

my face beat for the gods. my
holy grail beauty products
are my royal protectors. see
my vanity? this is my kingdom.
this is something I can control.


Anuradha Bhowmik is a Bangladeshi-American poet and writer from South Jersey. She is a 2018 AWP Intro Journals Project Winner in Poetry, and she earned her MFA from Virginia Tech. Anuradha has received awards from the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, the New York State Summer Writers Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Frost Place, the Indiana University Writers’ Conference, the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference, and the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. Her poetry and prose are forthcoming or have appeared in The Sun, Quarterly West,Nashville Review, Indiana Review, The Offing, Bayou Magazine, Contrary, Crab Orchard Review, Slice Magazine, Zone 3, The Normal School, Copper Nickel, Ninth Letter Online, and elsewhere. Anuradha can be found at