Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry II


poems from rivers and towns: fireflies and fish conversations

those fireflies and rivers
wanted to get to the roads
over the banks of refugee shacks
over tumbling tempo hoods
over our embarrassed long and rounded vowels
just to smell the tar of dawki roads

and walk walk walk those monsoon-muddied paths
that brought us at the teetering end to ask:

will the fish wake up and recognize us?


the valley people spoke of a beautiful fish-woman
who came up to the river shore on full moon nights to taste salt
of the sands, of the tongues of pahar line cooing through tunnels
where trains ran headlong with  faces hidden

they spoke of a black horse on dawn's back
a horse that munched on rising sunrays
the pasture of light
and showed them the way beyond where the magur had swum away

did you say the woman was a mermaid?

in fact, she was all fish
a woman who could swim through doors like some of us


once through the milling crowd we had burrowed in
small change in tiny hand and counting trees of legs
we were small
we wouldn't answer strangers and princes and clowns
even though the fair with its Ferris Wheels had encircled us
and the crowd became the rising sea
surging in us the fear of the known
hearing hey mister acharjee babu and oh missus prerona debi

no we aren't running away from home

once through with the milling crowd we stopped
at this lane by the strange
house that was lonely
we got home with the fair in our head
circling like afternoon pigeons while
someone screamed from afar

           -- come see the little girl cut in halves
           come, come see her live and speak!


my uncle stuffed fireflies in his pocket
to go to the barak's banks
fireflies as baits for the fish he secretly listened to
he wooed the fish and told them stories

i'm told on gibbous nights they too
came up to tell him tales
truths and half lies
of bodies pushed under
of sad brides sleeping under waves
of fingers and rings carved on bed-mud
of money stash swaying like algae
of keys to homes that stood on one legs before falling asunder
of map etchings thrown to the fish's mouths
of words turned into sludge
of gods who wouldn't be worshipped in households

the fishing rods stretched their length
drooped in one corner of my uncle's house
they carried the load of those stories
until fireflies returned to listen to them
glittering in dark corners like children's eyes

i've seen them hum together
before the railway line outside went home
and conversations were served in coffee cups