Three Poems | Jonaki Ray

Charity Home, Chandernagore

The pink lace of my frock is a mosquito net trapping
my skin into rhombus-shaped islands.
Aunty shushes my shifting—
A city lady has arrived
and is talking to the two uncles in the office,
their eyes refereeing from her to me.
The lady’s gaze flicks me away,
and she asks about an old man.
They talk about pardon and community and sacrifice,
about this city parceled between the French and the British
A man hidden here once,
convicted by one empire, and pardoned by another
his starting an empire and placing a city on the world map
while his comrade was dragged out and shot on the street corner.
I could have talked about my parceling between different shelters.
I could have told the lady that the city is full
of old men with their skin like leather handbags.
And that old men like me—
at home they played with my limbs and gifted me biscuits.
I could have told her that this town is famous
for its liquid jaggery-filled sweets that crumble in your mouth.
And I was given that name.
But the city lady is busy nodding between two pendulum earrings,
and they talk about the town providing a haven for revolutionaries,
I wait, trying not to scratch, for them to decide my next home,
while outside, the stew-colored memorial building
harvests the sunlight into a gossamer trap.

Eating Water Living Tales

    Parboti Ma, front teeth missing
back teeth always chewing betel nuts
hands busy sweeping floors, stoking the stove
kneading the flour, sieving the curdled milk
into sondesh sweetened with gur,
or roshogollas steeped into sugar syrup,
tagged as ‘a hocche bangali’, for the hocche, hai (in Hindi)
she added to every line, dipping from Hindi to Bangla.
Parboti Ma, happy to cook for Khoka Babu
my father—fish and mutton, flavored with garlic and onion,
 food she herself was banned from eating,
laughing at herself “Paani Khana hai” (I want to eat water)—
dipping from Bangla to Hindi.
Parboti Ma, refugee from Bihar, worker in Kolkata, resident of Delhi
teaching me, “Stay still, just like the teeter-totter in the playground,
and one day, balance will come to you.”

Talk about Trees

after What Kind of Times Are These

Firs, pines, elms
that line the meadow blinded with flowers
where she came herding horses
that map the lands
where her family doesn’t belong.
            Don’t talk about the lesson
            the “natives” taught the outsiders
            the battle they staked
            on her limbs, her mother doubling
            over her blood-soaked uniform,
            the neighbors who spin contrary tales,
            the citizens who argue about the truth
            that changes colors with every revolution.
Don’t talk about her eyes
that even half-shut in death
remain hard to look away from
Her face that resembles those of others
in other lands in other states of other religions
so that Delhi becomes Kashmir becomes Louisiana
becomes Michigan becomes Florida becomes Kerala.
            Talk about trees because they like children
            still believe in the sky. Still grow. Still love.
            Talk about trees because some day
            we will talk about the unspeakable.

No comments:

Post a Comment