“Time does not bring relief; you all have lied”
—Edna St. Vincent Millay
You lied through the first funeral fires,
The first few times when our heads nodded to agree with you
As if entrapment was like falling on moss—
We only needed to know how to step foot on it.
You lied through the snow,
You lied through the mist,
You lied through the sweat,
You showed a faulty compass.
But the only truth was in the wind,
The only sound was in the cries
And so we bent,
And so we crouched,
Our bodies weighing lightly against our prayers.
Crawling is bearing without attention—
Without eyes avoiding eyes.
And in this settlement, we hung our arms over time.
But look how one-sided,
How cruel this game,
How time still favouring time.
The wretched of the earth bow down
Turning water into a cracked lyre—
No string picks up the sound,
No wind remembers to blow over it
In a corner, a gull takes off,
Leaving the gentle grass widowed behind
In its taxiing it breaks a wing,
And slowly paddles its flagellatory feet against the wind
You do not believe me,
Say it sounds like the ground beneath our feet—
Shaky in its movement, fractured in its bones.
I am quiet, and think what it must take
To make truth sound like something you would finally embrace.
I begin the story again, this time distractedly
changing the moment that sits between
the take off and the fall,
the green and the dirty,
the sky and the devastation
Maybe the wing did not break,
Maybe the feet did not struggle to find a softer landing
The gull takes off,
passes carelessly through the sky,
spending its mornings against marbled floors,
where visitors will come and go
The wretched of the earth have fled we hear,
peacefully with the gulls.
Of course we will wake up tomorrow
The sun guillotines us every morning,
and in our fragility
we are prey to our own dismemberment—
broken necks falling, without a cause.
I am easy with my language today
Jacaranda doctors my beheading
Calls it what the night calls the sky,
Lonely in the hours
That have promised gentle intrusion
Look there he stands, at your doorstep,
And you weren’t even afraid today
Today this is all we’ve got:
A headline dangles from the paper and lands defeatedly at our feet. What do we know of losing and here we are again: finding ourselves measuring both our loneliness and the distance we are to cross to be alone.
Today I saw from the closest quarters, flowers that bloomed fully in their belongingness, their lives cut short by their roots. This is where they’re housed. This is where they measure their own worth. Here they are again, next to us, questioning:
did we survive, did we not?
Break in. Don’t get caught yet.
Here lies the woman who did not know
How to steal herself back.
Learn the guide. Bible its cover,
There is nothing in between,
Only a mirror, silver and exact
Make what you want to make of it.
Do you remember the poem that ended like this?
Like, here lay the body of a woman:
cracked and so goddamn broken.
Maybe the year is ending and all there is left to do
is leave our names behind.
No one will find them anyway.
Except for the paper boy
who looks longingly for a signature –
a moment of acknowledgement as for a mailman,
that some day he too existed,
his face resting at our doorstep.
But he’s already gone,
a lightning bug,
the first sight of something falling.
Softly perhaps, just a drizzle,
but falling still,
and is it not gravity that makes it harder to believe
that we too fell,
and is it not gravity that makes it harder to believe
that we too were gone.
No more peaches in the evening sky today
The clouds have hung themselves around me,
like a sick woman’s burden,
o p e n u p,
see the insides of me,
in the cracks on the streets,
bawling at my own pettiness –
what a justification for a being a woman
hair stuck like disappointment before a meal,
I merely pass by,
and if a car hits me or my insides today,
a sick woman’s burden hanging from her breasts,
do not catch my last breath,
let it fall
like the damaged breaks,
Have you heard the story of Faustina Soosairaj?
In 1992, a woman walked out of the gates of a convent
and a burning forest lost its wind.
When you place a system in place of the earth,
in place of a mother,
in place of family,
in place of village,
in place of a river,
you are cutting water with the colonised arms of your grandfather –
tired, and slowly, giving up.
Bama is a name that does not sit well in her own country.
Bama is a language they do not trust their children with.
when the newspapers open at the sound of a bird calling,
a life lost beneath the waves,
mud collected under the ashes and the rain,
Bama will be a mirror they will not want to look at.
What do we say of our families,
when we sit at the dinner table today,
emptying the food out of our plates,
and carefully slipping dalit history under the feet
of a wounded table, that develops a limp
Bama is a language we do not trust our children with
Bama is the water we have denied the right to be offered
Under the street light,
a father reads out his daughter’s prayer
and no sticks break into two that night,
no homes are burnt down,
no river is run over by fire.
Bama becomes a welcome wrapped in the folds of the printed saris,
In the toes of the men, in the tiny palms of the children
Bama is the truth, a confessional, a language they are slowly learning to speak
When she wakes up tomorrow,
Bama will be the sword and its warrior,
The leaves sharpening its edges,
Apples ripening against the window,
Sunlight entering the bones,
A mirror she will always remember to keep clean.
In our homes,
before we sit at the dinner table,
we will rinse our mouths
and completely remove Bama from our tongues.
Our uniforms soak in fresh water,
and the grime slowly crawls up to float.
Note : Bama Faustina Soosairaj is a dalit feminist and novelist who joined a convent, leaving her job to work towards the education of dalit girls, but faced discrimination even within the system. She left the school, and began her work on her autobiography ‘Karukku.’ When the novel was published, Bama was ostracised from her village for portraying the community in poor light, until her father sat them down to explain her message.
Nothing remains unread here :
Overs missed, electric wire heating in the sun, acts revised.
Reading is a habit we developed too early in life,
Thanks to our grandfather, who slowly turns the first page
Holding tea in one hand – an accompaniment to watch
East Bengal burn as a child.
Roads have been blocked again,
New gulmohars bloom with the old.
A window is rolled down to catch the wind
Three farmers lost their land today
Railways have new bedsheets, berths and bathrooms
Inside, tea leaves slip with grace,
Kettles boil without a sound,
A city washes its hands in its own river.