Shlagha Borah


Silver, gleaming – the dead river fish in my father’s hands. He holds it up like a
trophy for the photograph. He adjusts its head on the bothi, gently scraping the
scales off its back. Oil sizzles in the kitchen, mortar and pestle brimming with the
paste of mustard seeds. I inherited the staleness of desire from him. In America, I
cut open the pack of refrigerated tilapia, season it with ginger garlic paste. This is
muscle memory – to touch what is raw and open. I marinate it in yogurt, sprinkle
paprika all over its moist body. The wetness of fish alive in the tip of my fingers.
The first time I picked out a fish bone, it pricked my forefinger. The blood mixed
with the rice and my father joked how it enhanced the taste of the fish curry. We
keep fish bones in a glass jar. My father’s dying wish is to eat Sitol fish – a rare
delicacy in our Rohu-Bhokua household. To separate the bones one by one, like
strands of hair parted for a French braid. What doesn’t have a name doesn’t exist.
My father slices its throat. The fish flaps its tail.                        


Shlagha Borah (she/her) is from Assam, India. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Salamander, Nashville Review, Florida Review, EcoTheo Review, South Dakota Review, and elsewhere. She is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is an Editorial Assistant at The Offing. She has received support for her work from Brooklyn Poets, Sundress Academy for the Arts, and The Hambidge Center. She is the co-founder of Pink Freud, a student-led collective working towards making mental health accessible in India. Instagram: @shlaghab. Twitter: @shlaghaborah.