Shalim M Hussain’s poems are superb pieces of delicacy, satire and humour

POETRY EDITOR ANANYA S GUHA’S NOTE:

Shalim M Hussain’s poems are in the narrative mould, introspective and lyrical. With more than a touch of the allegorical Hussain’s poems heighten pain and pleasure tingling senses. He has a clear way with words and images, at the same time not under or over stating. These four poems are superb pieces of delicacy, satire and humour.

At the Counselor’s Office

(March, 2016)

 Sir, she will tell you of the

time she saw

water swimming in a bottle

 

she will tell you

it was the best time:

the air wet, a sheet of paper

swinging

under her ceiling fan

and the water in the bottle shivering

 

she will tell you about

the breeze

stepping off the edge

of her fifth floor terrace,

then slicing the face

of her kitchen knife

and all that water

throbbing

 

there’s one thing she won’t say

because she doesn’t know.

at seven that night

a draught of winged ants

flooded our room

and draped our tube-light-

all except one

that got in the bottle

and before it left,

set the water thrashing. 

 

 The Snake and the Tree Frog

(May, 2011)

 

One day long long ago

A snake running away from hounds

Jumped over a hedge

Consigned half his tail to concertina

And fell before a tree frog.

 

His heart melted

And flowed out of his blinking eyes.

For her, he was just another snake.

 

She said hello

He said hi.

She swung from branch to branch

Her milk-green skin

Dropped like dew-drops on the leaves and

Vanished.

He stretched his arms, fell backwards on the grass

The hounds snapped behind the hedge

But life was sweet!

 

They met at social events

His voice dipped in the natural dandiness of snakes

Slithered down her skin

She, cautious like all frogs

Maintained a one-arm distance.

 

‘Baby, let’s make it work.’

‘No, our species are incompatible.

Say, can I take you to an assembly of frogs?’

‘I will behave, I won’t eat them.’

‘Doesn’t change a thing.’

‘You taste awful! Slimy, green, bitter!’

‘Look who’s talking!’

They shook hands and never met again.

 

We have both evolved now.

 

Though I still have the snake’s bad eyesight

I see nineteen hundred miles away

The glimmer of moonlight

On her milk green back

 

She is too polite.

When she calls, she doesn’t mind my hissing.

She doesn’t tell me of my ancestor’s dried tail

Fluttering on the hedge.

But this age still makes us two.

In my kiss she feels the forked tongue

In my touch, scales.

Like my father, I keep shedding skins

And remain the same snake.

She, fully changed from frog to woman

Tries, just tries.

 

Essay on ‘A Memorable Incident in My Life’

(September 2010)

 

I still remember the day

my charity got the better of me

an’I offered a little girl in a crowded bus

a seat on my knee

realizing too late

that she

was a midget of twenty.

 

She stared through parted cherry lips

 

I prayed my father hadn’t noticed

and felt my pride, just born at fourteen

slink back

into its skin.

 

 

Bright night

(September 2010)

 

bright night

and I squat outside to pee.

sad scrotums of wild potatoes

swing.

I feel my cheek.

 

the moon trickles down my puddle

I finger my lips.

a puff

of moth on my neck

and I shiver away

 

from the tender touch of a man.

Shalim M Hussain is a translator, writer and persistent fan-boy. He studies medieval Assamese literature for a living but also enjoys experimenting with folklore, sci-fi and noir.