Gilding the Lily – A Poem by Janaki Challa


I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

-T.S. Elliot 

Gilding the Lily
Janaki Challa

It was not the ballet russe nor byzantine blue that so

turned you into a somber shelled snail,

and as you sort through syntax and solitude you are ever

more vacuous than valiant, more scared than salient,

and something wholly other, perhaps to have lost

before loss even happened is another form of being, or dying,

I’m not sure what the difference is, or

perhaps the world bellowed and you bowed

or backed behind a wall in the rain and now,

and now.

Courage was the word, was it not, back when you were you,

fearless minnow, wrapped in scarves of tinsel, wrapped in

that fire in your chest– now just the coward,

cowering in trains and staring at your feet in the tub,

suspecting scribes of sin and shutting up,

frightened, most of all, of words born for you,

or the thousand drums in your chest,

or the worlds in your mind, fanned out in so many pleats

and possibilities like the silk before a geisha’s face.

Zeitgeists never last long with age: you grew and grew

or maybe shrunk and shrunk, but in any case

your virile conquests turned wimpy, and the grandiosity

of love became harrowing and minuscule

even with your mind meeting mind out of miracle and yet –

You whimper:

Such is the wilted, wicked elegance of the waxy willow

that keeps you safe as you look out peeking, but only just so.

janunu vibin vibin


Janaki Challa studied anthropology and philosophy at Trinity College where we met during our semester abroad in Paris and began some longstanding traditions like sitting in cafes for hours talking about shockingly shallow or overwhelmingly deep things, playing Hide and Seek in the streets, and wearing sparkles when we’re excited.

She has since received a masters in Religious Studies from New York University and written for NPR, Vice, Rolling Stone, and TIME.

~hella love~


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