‘It was spring and we suckled dreams’: Four poems by Linthoi Ningthoujam

Ode To Home

a girl found a sparrow nesting on her tresses one morning
it was spring and we suckled dreams
of granaries deep with rice slumbering till the next harvest
it was the town i grew up in

in that town where i grew up
we injected dreams in veins blue as our sky above
musty lanes promised ecstasy in pills on a cloudy day
our earth, forgiving, buried the needles
the rain told my neighbour planted a rose on his severed forefinger

in that town i left
dreams are sold at counters
bought in installments from salary
for pockets heavy, for pockets torn

dreams shriek below muzzles from a hillock
shield in with books
we never dream at night anymore
since that dawn a body was found, eyes blindfolded
we just hide them on the other side of the moon

in the same town
budget dreams loaded up from the neighboring country
find a child’s foot and he kicks life in to a goal
you will hear a mother humming a lonely dream
to the sound of a loom in misty mornings
the potency of its rhythm
poets long to roll into an ode

in that town of my return
i dream of my lover bringing me beginnings folded in a lotus leaf
and i will simply watch a toddler trying to use an umbrella inside a room
simply watch the birth of dreams
senseless
elusive
sublime

***

Mother’s Hair

mother’s ebony hair tangles
umbilical cords of brother and i
tendrils of that golden pumpkin leaning shyly
on the shadow of her father’s house, cupping her girlhood
wrinkles of her first love left at a crossroad

mother’s knee-length hair shelters
dreams for her children in crumpled ten-rupee-notes
maroon blushes rising as she haggles used clothes
muffled stings of a husband latched in another’s arms

mother refuses to cut her hair, grey and all
washes, combs
cuddles in a bun
pins flowers collected with the morning dew
and out she goes to dance for the ancestral gods

father has none
the gods took them all away
and left him bald.

***

City, Love, and an Accord

The difficulty of summer is that
I think of plum trees nudging the clouds of your village
and a hillwoman hurriedly collecting the smell of earth in her sham.

I still haven’t been to Mao.

I stole this poem from your lips one blue summer in this city
when we searched for psychedelic nostalgias;
citrus skins of our homes, our leaden sky , the shaman calling forth the rain;
in the bareness of our heated bodies
and called it love.

We carry our terrain in the high of cheekbones and the slant of eyes.
They asked if we tumbled out of the same womb
into a chaos of insect-eaters.
Yes, we are savages,
wild and children of the earth
You cannot tame the scent of my wildflower.
There was solace in shops selling herbs
you and I both know with different names;
tuningkhok, I have forgotten yours,
and our tongues learned to shape to new forms.
I tucked my phanek on the other side
to your memory of femininity
and we called it love.

It was a time before we understood accords
and that a man’s love for his nation
is more than his bruised land could bear.
We stood with a drunken awkwardness of knowledge
in a room where people not born of our soil discuss
how to split our trees, part our rivers
quarry fossils of our genesis
and burn the mist of our dawns.

We are now banal relics in each other’s tales of
how we dared love “the other”;
ashen tokens appropriating our modern sadness.
A sudden gush of rain punctuates
and we found each other in the same blue of this city
yearning for the mist we left.

***

Winter

i do not know much of winter in the hills
its lores are kept in echoes
only that in Tamenglong oranges ripen on sun-kissed skin of its natives
in Ukhrul some prayer must have risen on Christmas for a Rose* that refuses to be forgotten

in the valley people hurry to the newly-opened Night Plaza
for answers to corruption or the loss of a shoe
only a deer-shaped lights stand mute
they turn back seeking refuge in dying embers and daily routine
for instance
how cold was it when that young girl was drowned?
along with her child?
umbilical cord attached still?
how blue were its lips?
did it take after the mother’s?

i flip the calendar to the picture of spring
a line on my palm deepens
there is no longer the assurance of crossroads
stars do not guide to dreams but wait feebly for dawn
to crumble again
and if you search for warmth in such a time
fall in love and like a madwoman
kiss that poem hanging low
on a pomelo

* Rose from Ukhrul district, Manipur, was raped by officers of the Border Security Forces in 1974. She later committed suicide.

***

Linthoi Ningthoujam is from Imphal, Manipur, and currently stays in Delhi. Some of her poems have been published in Sonder, and Kekru: An Anthology


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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