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“I, Too, Want to be Ashoka” by Shivani Mishra

In August of 2023, we released our fourth Open Call: How might we reimagine healing and transformation with cancer through poetry, art, letters, and stories? The following is a poetry submission we received from this open call.

“My submission is an ode from a grand-daughter to her ‘dada’ (grand-father in Hindi), who fought cancer at 80 years and lives today, fearlessly. Saraca asoca, commonly known as the Ashoka Tree, is a sacred plant in the Indian Subcontinent among the Hindus, and is known for its ayurvedic healing properties, particularly for cancer. In this poem, an immigrant grand-daughter with Indian roots far away from her grand-father reimagines his healing and transformation with cancer through meditating on the powers of the three Askhoka trees that her grandfather had planted in their family home in Gorakhpur, Northern India. I invite readers to draw upon nature, particularly symbolic trees like the Ashoka, to express pain and hopelessness. We all want to help our loved ones when they are in pain, but what happens when we are far away? This poem will delight.”

Shivani Mishra

I, Too, Want to be Ashoka

Pointing at the Ashoka tree one breezy summer
You proudly tell me that it is a friend of the wind
Look at it dance, bend, and flutter
Tall, erect, mystical and bold; wanting to sing

I, too, want to be Ashoka

Protector of your heart
Firm to hold
Can heal one’s cancer
Or so I was told

I, too, want to be Ashoka

King of the Ayurveda
Reliever of the Pain
Mighty, sweet and slender; Mother Nature
Come to it when in vain

I, too, want to be Ashoka

Aren’t you the strongest, dada
When life pulled out a root from your soil
Cancer this cancer that; they said so many words, dada
There you stayed still, breathing heavy in turmoil

Oh dada, I prayed and I prayed
To see the tender wrinkled edges of your eyes
Get wiser, deeper and purer with age
I was so far away from you, dada
These American immigrant struggles, fighting with rage

Days went by, I heard that you were healing
A miracle, at that age
Or so they were meaning
If I were to rewind
I wouldn’t be writing this poem
Instead, I would run and run to the time
When the you, me and the Ashoka were in rhythm

Look at it dance
Tall, erect, mystical and bold
It is a healer of cancer, protector of the heart
Or so I was told

I, too, want to be Ashoka
I,too, want to be your Ashoka

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