Ringing personal notes

POETRY COLUMN

This month’s poet NABINA DAS’s poems are evocative and deeply sensuous

Poetry Editor ANANYA S GUHA’s note:

”Nabina Das’s poems are evocative, deeply sensuous with a splash of colours. There is a liquid movement in the poems. She explores the past, history and personal myths. Nabina’s use of language is exploratory and rhythmic. These poems are beautiful recapitulations of the past, infused with present moments. Nabina is an exquisite crafts person. Her invocation of the Brahmaputra is prayer like – of the river’s history. This is her cultural landscape as history seeps through time and again in her poems, at the same time imbued with ringing personal notes.”
The River on a Pyre

Eyeing the Brahmaputra

Flowing with its whale-body

And the faraway banks smoking

She thought death stood quiet.

Quietly performing the ritual

Of mouth-fire for her own for

The bodies that once talked

Laughed and spread guile.

Eyeing the strong-arm river’s sweep

Carrying unsuspecting dolphins

And last night’s smoky limbs

From the pyres she watched

Across her verandah over the

Monsoon’s damp dribble.

She searched out the smell

Ashes in the wind stuck

Like the stunned river’s pride

The look of a living face

smoke-screened in twilight.

Finding Foremothers

This is a day the family sits down

to a dinner for a festival remembering

ancestors they say hover disguised as

birds and animals – on the lawn, on garden boughs.

Is my grandma among the cows?

I knew she was feisty. Maybe

a crow then. And her own mother

was she there too with her broken

teeth and sad robes yellowed with

age in a photograph some white man had

clicked at her rich spouse’s gracious permission?

The sweetened tomato chutney on

my banana leaf plate seeping away like blood

dark dark red, blood of aunts, wives

who cooked and cleaned, sucked

blood from cuts, bore kids and bled till

they stopped, bled in their hearts when widowed and denied.

A few grains of paddy, holy water, forefathers still

flocked outside, on the television a woman wails

I flip through an old photo album, sepia, forgotten clutter.

Sem(a)ntics

Dear Europa,

a letter seems the best way to say how I wish to get

inside your ancient catacombs and modern plazas once again, be a good

Zeus this time, friends to the mythical queen, in your florid cities.

Amstel dam

shakes my hand with the wind weaving my hair on Dam

Square; we can’t go fishing anymore like they did in the 12th Century

before hopping on to the Dutch Golden Age when you showed off your

new blood diamonds; now your neighborhoods gesture, flash Rosse Buurt

on my shamed eyes and in your coffee shops of languor you sleep in peace.

History is

a lover never loved or known. Your history, Paris, coaxes me

to call you “The craftsmen” of the heart as you pout: Moi j’suis d’Paname.

So take your lights, drunken squares, amorous nicknames hunched over

horsemen and whores crowding my eyes, lead me on with your soft

consonants trilling and tripping, try explain why you’d rather have the world

bring you bouquets of ideas, mirth, and still say: Moi j’suis d’Paname!

I do know

the Bonn joke outsiders like to make, historians too because they see

the truth in a relatively innocent way, no harm meant: Bundeshauptstadt

ohne nennenswertes Nachtleben! I’ll leave the translation to someone else,

drink Kölsch in noisy gulps, also laugh to the safer joke that Kölsch is the only

language one drinks in Cologne, the other non-drinkable being my brown sahib

grandpa’s imported odikolon, a habit dad picked up, he a rebel with good taste.

Evening Things

5 p.m. The trees invite blue china clouds

They forget the sun cannot light the lamp

5 p.m. You are drinking tea with honey

Inside a penumbra by the Radhachuda tree

You can wait, then bring the oil lamp out

Circumnavigate the non-existent tulaxi

The Namghar’s 5 p.m. silence will soon erupt

Its tranced kortaal dueting with the khol

5 p.m. You will know that time has struck

Gooseberry dreaming the shadow of a home.

Luit on our Tongues

We were five or six, men and children

In a tempo, that rackety raucous vehicle

With three capricious wheels heading

Towards Sonitpur, our vacation, where

Mangoes had ripened summer’s belly with

The monsoon’s heavy showering grace

The usual route was flooded, abandoned

Luit had licked it wet, fungal, even after

The water receded; this was our Old Luit

Father kept telling me how the Red River

Has its liquid name from the colour red

After a battleaxe washed itself, lots of blood

Now there are bridges that drown currents

Hurrying us in buses and cars in a riverine flow

The Bodo teacher sitting just next to us said

The river does actually speak the curious hue

In gurgles by his village sweeping in a chant

Bhullum-buthur.He smiled. Bhullum-buthur

Bubbles in the head, the mad water’s dance

The Brahmaputra in news and TV he knew

It still gurgles day and night, another man said

Like human voices when slashed, when spent

Gasps bhullum-buthur in river tongue, the dead

So did our Luit, took stories along and lives

Between conversations from the diverted route

We saw the faraway river gone red-eyed with mud

The blood all faded, perhaps the colour of the red-

ness entrenched like the leftover evening sun.

Goodbye to Ballimaran

I’ve heard about riled up days that despised names of verses

they preferred riding jaunty jeeps through the old town

earlier than the rooster, stopping for certain numbered doors

Possibly those sweaty days turned swear words into Molotovs

singed bamboo screens drying after summer’s whimsy and rain

left a few blackened posts under roofs where couplets lived

Possibly I imagined my footsteps would precede yours there

even now, waiting, a tender pastured horse munching rhymes

your leftover half-ghazals, their florid maktas, for this was love

Didn’t Ghalib live here? My rickshaw man pedaled and smiled

He bought his quarter peg here every evening, walked from there!

No wonder I imagined your beard hair on the banister, wind-tangled

If you still exhaled behind that cindered verandah I would not know

holding broken bangle pieces of a departed love, post intermission

Alvida, you must’ve said in a sad refrain, adding in English, “So long”.

Nabina Das

Nabina Das

NABINA DAS is the author of a short fiction collection "The House of Twining Roses-Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped", a novel "Footprints in the Bajra", and two poetry collection titled "Into the Migrant City" and "Blue Vessel". Nabina blogs at nabinadas13.wordpress.com and teaches Creative Writing in classrooms and workshops. The views expressed are her own.