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
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
under her ceiling fan
and the water in the bottle shivering
she will tell you about
stepping off the edge
of her fifth floor terrace,
then slicing the face
of her kitchen knife
and all that water
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
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
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’
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
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
into its skin.
and I squat outside to pee.
sad scrotums of wild potatoes
I feel my cheek.
the moon trickles down my puddle
I finger my lips.
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.