‘In Bronxville, I meet a banana tree’ : Six poems by Devi Sastry

Musa Musings

I.
There is a trick to eating fruit;
thin-skinned bananas are fickler
than this generous cavendish giant,
and if my mother had her way we would wait until
darkness took it over before dipping it in gram flour,
chilli powder, and hot oil.
In our house, nothing ever goes to waste,
so when I pick up an accidental Underripe,
its continuous bite is loud enough to scatter the fruitflies.

II.
When steamed, they grow yellow.
We unravel the cross-sections dotted with seed,
(scorching nails from spent impatience)
smash them flat with the undersides of our forks,
and anoint the sticky mash with ghee and sugar.

III.
Purple flowers (so large you might think them
the nest of something sinister)
dangle heavy, false corn husks wilting in reverse,
petals coyly rising with clandestine crop
in tattered palm-leaf shade. Sometimes,
we chop them off and eat them as a vegetable.

IV.
There are consonants that the english alphabet cannot replicate.
The word for this fruit in malayalam contains one of them:
pazham, and I could describe its sound as a cross between
an “r” and an “l” but perhaps it is easier
to listen to the sound you make the next time you bite into a banana.

***

Sadhya

In Bronxville,
I meet a banana tree,
watch its leaf curve over me,
feel its skin between my fingers,
and remember every meal
eaten from its hands.

Hands, dipped in water
sprinkled dew on sadhya platters
The patter echoing down a banquet procession

The leaf returns the favour,
spills rain onto my nose
and reminds me of the crack
of its spine
folding over abandoned avial
and sambhar-soaked rice,
Heavy, still, with the guilt
of my childhood inappetite
Heavy, still, like the bellies filled
with traces of its scent.

***

Sunrise Twigs

What are they?
Outside my window, shivering as I wake and stare
at invisible branches,
thin as spider silk.
They hang, wilted birds from childhood drawings –
yellow, ready to spring but
stuck,
harpstrings dragged by the wind,
a static song.

They look like garments garden pixies might wear –
trousers for skinny mini legs.

Perhaps they’re the spirits of forgotten marionettes
unaware that time has stopped
for the puppeteer.

***

Bramha Kamala, or Impermanent Bloom

The mayfly flower may flower in May,
but my bulbs are no bells
to chime the jasmine’s drowning.

Your face in the kitchen window sniffs,
stares down, turns off the stove,
rushes, calls out, and
brings fickle chatter
to my glow.

For a moment, I,
twisting up the garden pole,
can draw your nose,
then eyes, then flashing second sights,
to this overlooked nook
of home.

You, thinking what a shame it is to breathe all life
into one bloom,
forget
that after a day wound in your hair,
the little white stars of jasmine fade,
and you tire of their sweet rot.
I am queen of the night, with tempered reign.
Born of a god, but mortal,
a withering ornament on rust.

***

India to her Monsoon

When the winds begin to blow
Heralding your arrival
My scorched sand is loosed
I gain a life of my own
I tremble
I dance
In anticipation of you.

When you paint the sky a welcome grey
And emerge from behind the clouds
Whispering your presence
Among the joyous cries of men and beasts
Among the dancing of the drumstick leaves
Among the shrinking crevices of my skin
It is then that I love you most.

When you bear the gifts of your travels
And they tumble from the sky
So that I may bear gifts of my own
The dead streams flow again
The forest’s thirst is quenched
And I regain the hues I once lost
To the sun
It is then that I am most grateful.

When the sky can no longer contain you
And your temper begins to wane
Your winds go to war with my peepals
Your waters encroach my riverbanks
The dark of your clouds is broken only by the flash
That precedes your thunderous voice
The voice that once whispered
The voice that silences mine
It is then that I pray for peace
It is then that I pray you leave.

When the blue of the sky returns
And you are long gone
My drying rivers are the only sign you ever knew me
Men and beasts, branches and leaves
Lose their pallor
Are silent
Listening in vain for your song
My children spill blood
For a fragment of your memory
It is then that I begin to hold my tongue
And wait for your return.

***

An April Away

An April away, across oceans and day, an unsweeping wind ruffles the dog ears by which I measure my life. Thunder threatens and lightning cracks and looming clouds give way to hail, holy as the tree-trickle that tickles my nose after the storm has passed. Dust is chased to the far side of the plateau and my sentiment peaks, unhazed from fogs of indifference. I always remarked that my favourite season was the moment before monsoon.

An April away, and I have bloomed with spring; the grass inherits my shed green coat and a rock face rises next to mine, dimpled in lichen and freckled from moss. Above, the yellow daisies are bold enough to stand apart, islands in uneven lawn. I pass the willow, ghost tree slow in the setting wind – other blossoms stark themselves, but the willow breezes, an old soul in ancient motion.

Considering my allegiance to poetic prophets, it would seem only natural to join the tradition of interpreting personal attack from the unabashed joy of earth, but I am afraid I cannot agree. I cannot dread the robins or condemn daffodils, though foreign in fashion, for piercing my spirit. April is decidedly not the cruellest month. But could you expect otherwise from a tropical bud dispersed to temperate lands?

***

Devi Sastry is an undergraduate student of literature, creative writing, and languages. She loves to write and read poetry, and dabbles in theater and music. Her work can be found here.


Read more poetry on Bengaluru Review :

Monsoon verses : Five poems for the season

‘And we smelt like guavas’ : Five poems by Nilim Kumar

‘You may see the city slowing down’ : Five poems by Malcolm Carvalho


 

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