New | Poetry | Jobeth Warjri

Georges Seurat, A Riverbank 


Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved…

                                                                                                 —Salman Rushdie         

Poetry cannot have meaning unless it

traverses the lines dividing you from me.

There is a muteness there of all the

things we could not say:

a sky half-filled with

constellations we cannot name.  

So, I made a home in your body

believing that, if I did, I would

not have to contend with that

which shows you for you and me for me.


I was wrong.


Lapalang means a foreign country

to which I cannot belong,

no matter how hard I try.

Mei tells me its hurt is ancient,

its blood seeping past the familiarities

of home, nation, world;

a sound to which my ears

are unaccustomed. A turn of phrase.

It slices the night, she says, with

a knife meant to wound, if not kill.


I know

it fills cities with graffiti

that skewer even indifferent clouds.


Mei also says it inhabits a form marked by what

it ought to have left behind:

your affinity for cold, for instance,

and mine for heat,

you for you, me for me;

so that the lines may fall, jagged,

where they must


and I quote Rushdie for comfort

when they eviscerate

the air from which my poetry bleeds.



When we leave this city,

there will be no light

from above to make us go blind—

there is no saviour for

abandoned boats on the River

Tapti, stranded during summer. 

The lovers along Dumas Road

know the wretchedness of parting.

They say a prayer on arrival.


And doesn’t this feel

a little bit like love—

when one picks at the wound 

to arrive at what remains?

At Amar Tiffin House

the kebabs smell

sickeningly of home.


The Valley

Here, in this city of lakes, the waters

wash a distant memory to shore: you

balancing between the hate of the familiar

and love of strangers. It is swimming

of a kind because there are no fish to greet you

like the ones the fishermen carry on their boats.

They have company you cannot keep.


It is Elah but also not quite when you

have already arrived, as it were, to gaze

upon children who barely grow up

to become adults. Eight died that week.


You notice old men in pherans

at the market and you wonder if

they ever felt lucky to be on this side

of the bridge and not the

other side with eyes closed. 


You walk the streets no earlier than 8.00

and no later than 11 hours from then.

Happy schoolchildren fill a battered Maruti

with the scent of ink and chalk-coloured dreams.

A man behind the counter hands you

your packet of cigarettes. You smile your thanks.


There are firs in the garden to

keep you from peering too closely

through the windows of homes.

Their exposed bricks remind you of

of tents in a snowstorm.


You remember Munnu from

the deer story, the one you clutched

to your heart on your way here.

You delude yourself into thinking that

this cannot be history. It is only a graphic novel.


The thing about it is you’re never prepared.


One: remain calm when you hear the noise of the ocean

turn off the fan just to be sure,

words don’t float on a page.

Massage your body, gently

you are not air, you are not bird

be sure that you know this when


two: something tells you you’ve bungled

even when your life depended on it.

Don’t compare yourself to Scheherazade

remember, you’ve already died a thousand times

shivering in the last throes as you do now


without a language and tongue, a past.

Three: the lead in your brain isn’t actual

weight inviting you into silence

empty your pockets of stones

before waves take away your remains


you are Virginia Woolf but also


not really.




Stories are difficult to write


believe me, I’ve woven some from your hair,

untangled knots others do not see

like that day when you wanted to

make the sea your home and not return to me.


I fancy myself a gardener, sometimes


I’ve re-fashioned plots from loss and longing

separated your tree from its roots,

so I can graft branches

that grow in little pockets of the sky.


Other days, I am a petty mechanic


oiling parts of the evening with your misery

bolted down the setting so that your

hero wouldn’t have to die a slow death

I have blood on my hands, thick and viscous   


in short, I kill.

Mostly, I am a thief


I have stolen from your hurt

its tortured limbs and labyrinthine arteries

to give unhappiness its due regard:


stories when you weren’t even looking.



When we got here,

light rain streamed down

windows of a plane;

we became birds cooing

from rafters damp with weeping.

      In an airport humming

with arrivals,

we called strangeness

by another name,

named new places

after the ones we’d left. Just in case.

We grew accustomed to habits―us foreigners―

only for a time, for

a time, for a



You remembered Marco Polo; I, Ruth, opened an atlas

to welcome your coming with

the agony of




Sometimes            the wound hurts

like roots of a tree           torn from its earth,                   a great cavity

whose jaws rip apart


who have left                           

and keep on leaving.

We tend to blame it                  on the losses,

those worn out tents                                    we’ve stapled to the


while we were out. Camping.


Really, it is not cities that haunt us―

the maps whose

loneliness we have felt               drive nails through our palms.

Nor is it the baying of wolves in


before we traced

the wetness of betrayal                                 on our cheeks.

We’d left them on our way out

the psychologist’s office.


One day, I shall pluck it out of you―                      that poisoned dart

      which causes you

to never return.




























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