Culprit

By Carolina Hotchandani

Featured Art: Hello, Hello, by John Schriner

As you finish your morning cup of tea,
an identity thief rings.

You answer.

Sleep wraps loosely around your mind
like the flannel robe you’re still wearing.

It’s almost noon.

The television is on
but muted.

On the screen, Lieutenant Columbo’s mouth moves
as he pesters his prime suspect.
Soon, he’ll reveal how the murderer
murdered the murdered.

Ahhh, you say to the voice on the phone
that dubs over the episode’s denouement:

Tell me the story behind your name.
So you do.
Can you spell it for me?
So you enunciate:
M as in “money” — A — N as in “Nancy” — O — H . . .
till all the letters of your name go down
into the small holes of the phone.

You were born in India before Partition?
Those were hard times.

When the voice solicits your social security number,
you want to know why,
but the logic you’re offered makes sense:
there’s money to be claimed
by survivors of arduous times.

Columbo lights his cigar.
The murderer’s exposed, and the credits are rolling.

The end is not surprising; we’ve known it from the start.

We won’t learn who trafficked in your memories,
committing this crime.
You aren’t the best witness,
forgetful these days.
But you watch and rewatch your favorite TV sleuth
intuit the culprit, apprehend the truth.


Carolina Hotchandani is a poet and Goodrich Assistant Professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she teaches courses on literature, writing, and the medical humanities. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNIAlaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry JournalCincinnati ReviewThe Journal, Missouri Review (poem of the week), Plume, Prairie SchoonerWest Branch, and other journals. She received the Rona Jaffe scholarship to attend the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2021 and was a Pushcart nominee in 2017. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and daughter.




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