THE MEN AT KRO HEM

 

On some nights their moon finds a womb

and a dark child is conceived like desire

with impetuous stars in its eyes;

but sometimes you can hear them release

the animal of their solitude’s habit

into the rusty, half-open cage of sobs.

 

In the clear mornings, when the haze

has passed over the sandalwood trees,

their dreams will be lost

at the quiet queue to the toilet,

the common tap.

And they will live in sounds alone,

empty sounds of buckets being filled,

utensils being washed,

children being beaten out of sleep

by mofussil mothers.

 

When the constellations change above

in a clear inky sky, they will cook a meal

to remember it until the year turns

into a different number on the town’s walls.

 

And then, that heresy of uniting,

despite mortally opposed wives,

in the belief that something or someone

has schemed against them, to put them

so much at comfort with this anonymity

that lets them know little else

than to walk out of the gate every morning

and enter it with supplies at sun down,

playing to that eternal trick of light,

trapped in their body’s bamboo-hut,

with its insects and its rats.

Every time they huddle in a corner

to exchange silences, a secret country is born;

a country without the urinary failures of age

and women.

 

Now, the wintry light does not touch their heads’ roof

until late in the morning

there is still the solace of meagre rent,

the old landlord and his wife, steady water—

unthinkable in this place and time.

But they are wary of his son and the fate

of their tenancy he hides in his bone’s quiet plans.

NEW LOVE

-for O

 

Another departure;

words trying

to grasp

            at meaning

to stay,

         stay

              a little longer

                           at the edge

of feeling.

Days go flying

            in poems returning

to wind;

I love yous

            not uttered without

tainted humour,

            a dark wisdom

                        we didn’t ask for.

Yet you escape

childlike,

            into walks

on misty roads,

            reading poetry

with my burdens

            resting on your shoulder.

And as prematurely,

I cry seeing

            a red heart-emoticon in an sms

                        where imagination

                                    is a tantalising taste

of warm chestnuts being sold somewhere

            in Istanbul’s streets,

the vision of a blue mosque

                        I’ve always dreamed

                                    of visiting….

Each fragile hope

            has taken its rightful place already

                        in this pathologically shy world

of our betrayed hurts and fears:

the dog,

            comics,

                        cooking for each other,

                                         bits of concerned nagging….

Only, we don’t know how

            to deal

                        with what

                                    we know;

of the sad magic

that conspires to speak in us

to a deaf world.

So

   we

      wait,

          wary

of joy,

            its miserable flair

for words,

            lapping at the shore

of an old heartbroken sea

in our eyes;

watch promise play

            like a cat

                        with our limp

former selves,

from that painfully

            cultivated distance,

where it’s possible to wonder

            if there’s still

                        something left

                                             here,

some slight movement

            that would imitate

                        what we’ve beaten ourselves

to forget;

spur us on, disarmed again

            into death’s fiercest desire

                                                 for life;

go on,

      together,                           

            braving this

                   terribly beautiful quiet.

 

SUNDAY

 

Morning, feet hurrying

to the butcher’s for the best pieces;

suddenly the world’s a bleat

hanging by the tongue

of an insatiable need.

 

Stale absences on my breath,

days that want to stop beginning again;

an hour or two of reading

moments that wouldn’t question me

were I to just be, hands raised

to the wind.

 

The day is a purpose—

to wash the pile of clothes,

fail to rid them of

the stench of ghosts;

cook, eat, tire quickly

and sleep without dreams,

but places where I lived briefly, return

in snatches against an incoherent rain.

 

Late afternoon, sipping fine Darjeeling,

I try to comprehend things,

dredge a few lines out if possible,

but the itch doesn’t lend itself to words anymore;

the door, worn out on the edges,

doesn’t startle blood.

The light is fine otherwise,

for the sense of a small victory—

another Sunday almost passed,

in contemplation of the miracle:

I’m alive;

I’ll do just what it takes

to strip the day of its last illusions;

there are letters to delete,

a book of masks to open and close,

break into short sniggers thinking

how I stopped apprehending

defeat in night’s brief cry.

-Nabanita Kanungo


Footnote re: first poem title:  Hem is Karbi for ‘house.’