The following selections have been curated by Tuhin Bhowal , Poetry Editor, Bengaluru Review.
Three poems by Sumana Roy
You carry the season on your skin
as if you were its clerk –
they hear the excitement
evicted out of your throat
and hear the rain before it’s arrived,
like one imagines the music
that follows a singer’s throat-clearing.
Glistening damp skin,
as if you were an oil painting,
your eyes only look outwards,
the sideward glance –
making the mind’s eye seem unnecessary,
as it is to all employees.
You jump from ambition –
you’ve felt the eclipses in water,
land felt too like a museum, a trap;
you jump to check
whether air is like porcelain,
whether it breaks when you leap through it.
Finding the air unharmed,
you return to water, to its clutter, and wait –
for a bubble, then two, water’s buttons,
that the fingers of light open affectionately.
Waxy, like the devoted slipperiness of a dancer’s feet.
Striped, gently, like sunlight through a Mughal monument.
Green, as most leaves are, only less methodical
(as if it’d just been taken out of a pouch).
Delicate, like skin, like sentimentality.
I massage its creases while eating,
like music massaging my migrancy.
I trace my finger through its gutter
– the thud between its sombre reticulation –
that collects dal, gravy, and other ruins.
Before that, I watch the food on it like a witness
– the infidel yellows on pleated green;
rice, a heap, rounded, like a number;
vegetables in clusters, like groups in Parliament;
the leaking sauces, like rivers that cause wars.
My fingers skid to its margins,
to stop these wrecks from falling.
I miss the plate’s opportunist rim.
It is as if it were stained glass,
only without the intimacy of that violence,
colour kicking colour, light copulating with light.
After I finish eating, it is still as innocent.
And I imagine that this is how the earth would be –
as fresh after my death, its perimeter still a secret.
Samdrup Darjay Choling Monastery, Sonada
Colour must’ve existed before history;
the mind too, at least its shyness?
I think these with twilit-belief,
and so the mind withholds its rewards.
In my eyes, though they’re being pushed out,
are maroon and yellow, slipping and falling.
(The child monks are playing, like fingers on a hand.)
Colour leaks – we see it in the sky,
the sun a messy child; in water again,
its centrelessness, its lack of constancy.
That Buddhism, a religion of the moment,
should try to trap the pentatonic colours,
their panting breath, is as much a surprise
as goddesses with expectant breasts.
Blue, yellow, red, green, black …
Mumbling mandalas, the barking spires.
Anitya couldn’t be colour-laden,
I think, without affection for life –
but a rainbow shivers and faints,
Behind the monastery are conifers,
without sleep, without humour.
Flower, colour, caress, breath of a bell –
dukkha is here, in this homeless beauty,
in its liquid life, in its devotion to death.
Dukkha is here, in this hunchbacked flux.
Flux perhaps reveals itself only in colour,
for when I close my eyes to pray,
light dies, scalding my prayer.
I look around,
scared of attaining nirvana,
its monochrome famine.
Life bursts inside me –
a wound, a dense, creaking wound.
Sumana Roy is the author of How I Became a Tree, a work of nonfiction, Missing: A Novel, Out of Syllabus: Poems and My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories, a collection of short stories.
Three poems by Priya Sarukkai Chabria
Invocation: Spirit of Water
Make me dew that touches all
Like snow-flakes let my perfect structures
yield to the melt of being.
As an underground river flowing during drought,
make me draw from secret sources.
Sweet and salt, estuarine,
let differences mingle in my blood.
Tidal courage, I call upon you to return after the ebb:
Spirit of water, give me hope.
Print on me oceans covered with sky;
when fiery fissures open, remind me of life.
Fill my marrow with glacial ice that cuts
rock to nourish springs.
Add one more wish to this:
Make me a mountain lake,
calm and deep,
that reflects light.
First published in Dialogue and Other Poems, Sahitya Akademi Golden Jubilee Imprint, 2005.
We must talk
'Every house, no matter how well built, will eventually catch fire.’
We must talk & do so on this soil that turns
swamp turns shivering sea: turn it into neutral
waste (o limned in clemency) that buoys us
both on seaweeds bereft of weight, of wakes.
We must talk remembering love, summoning its
hands on us as we sing from siren perches come die
against me please or break off, each a wailing wall
submerged in murk while skin pours incense.
We must talk over my swell of fear and your tide
of neglect, casual in its sweep. But do you want
to swim past its rich rewards to see me reappear? Alarm
whimpers in me saying darken, dive, disappear.
We must talk beyond hope to look at what may
be. Around us glitter gifts – our life of years together –
as litter. Spare grace. Could we build on flotsam yet?
Can we net phosphorescence? What’s your take?
We must talk of anguish caused that so weeps to hide
its face while shame seeps from entrails to lustrate me in
inkiness; a black beacon to which your regret is a lifejacket
hurriedly hurled just out of reach. Is it deliberate, my sweet?
We must talk: am I imagining you shipwrecked while
you are safe elsewhere, your shadow too? My tongue,
marooned, still stutters blessings after you. Tell me at our
accident site over the sirens’ blare there’s nothing to rescue.
We must talk. As I drown a slip of moonshine intones
your words familiar, bewildering, as your reflection
melts into me as craved chyle, as the horizon
unrelentingly lobs stars overhead beyond time.
We must talk, must answer prayers, part
the waves, herald vision but my dissolved
retinas can’t see you anymore my love
First published in Interlit
Do memories change when
what’s remembered is no longer
owned? Do your footsteps
disappear from those frames
of time? Scent fade? Are these
feelings your own or taken over?
Are you a rose of water climbing
on thorns of glass?
Are you lighter for having your
recall removed? Lighter but hate
clogged? Is hate a light emotion?
Have your bones dissolved?
Are the eyelids of memory
peacock blue? Do these turn
brown when its eyes are looted?
Can you hold its jelly in your
Does it beat its wings trying to
break into your body? How often
have you cupped a wounded
memory, then put it to sleep?
Are empty chrysalises homes of
memories that have fled? Do you
collect these? Whose memories
are you retaining? Yours or
someone else’s? Will anyone
retain memory of you?
Can you detonate from the
memory of things and still be you?
Does a vestige remain like butterfly
wing powder on fingers?
Isn’t premonition memory of the
future? Did Proust say writers have
a blurred memory of things they do
Does memory exist in parallel time
or a footloose space that descends
like a spaceship to kidnap you? Is
there a way to cross into glow? Is
Are you a museum of invisible
things? Are you made up of people
you no longer are? Daughter?
Can we heal without memory?
we live without healing?
Published in Calling Over Water (Poetrywala, 2019)
Priya Sarukkai Chabria is an award-winning poet, translator, and writer who is acclaimed for her radical aesthetics across her eight books of poetry, spec-fic, literary non-fiction, novel and, as an editor, two anthologies. Anthology publications include Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World, A Book of Bhakti Poetry: Eating God, Adelphiana, Asymptote, Drunken Boat, PEN International, Post Road, Reliquiae, The Literary Review(USA), The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction, The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, The British Journal of Literary Translation, Language for a New Century, Voyages of Body and Soul, etc. She edits Poetry at Sangam.
Three poems by Sukrita Paul Kumar
(From the collection of poems, Country Drive, 2018, published by Red River, New Delhi)
I love you the most
The border, marked by the spectacle of
Stomping army boots, shining medals
Beating their chests
Into the rising and setting sun
The day becoming night, and the night day
When the guards on both sides
change bang bang
I love you the most
When the guns are raised to salute
Separation, division and rupture
When the neighbour
becomes enemy all at once
dies and wears the shroud
My friend, you go away
Only as a bird does
Flying in the free skies
When lines of hatred rise
Against prayer flags
And I love you the most
because you are on the other side
of the border …
The Myth of Re-creation
(From the collection of poems, Untitled, 2014, Authorspress, New Delhi)
The white of the bark
Is the frozen heart of the white
Turned white when Columbus landed on the shores
of what he thought, the land of spices
The deepening red of the leaves every fall thence
Is not the sudden blushing of the damsel
It is the blood of the Indians rising from
The womb of the earth below
with the lava of unrecorded genocide
Streams of leaves dropping as tears
Every inch savagely cultivated
Beauty a metaphor of atrocity
Moments of joy
Pumped from lungs on ventilators
Men and women in love
their hearts beating on pacemakers
Staking their riches at our casinos
They will lose
So said the Chief each year
We’ll get our land back
With their money,
Let the season pass.
(Inspired by poems hanging around
the Master Pagoda near Hanoi, Vietnam)
(From the collection of poems, Untitled, 2014, Authorspress, New Delhi)
nine times over
the word nothingness
and yet again
in the twenty-word poem by the master monk
the dragon, they say, descends into the sea searching for meaning
and spewing jewels
jewels that become rocks with stalactites piercing into bellies of rocks
columns of light rise dressed in stunning colours
in step with gods
all in all,
adding to nothingness and making meaning
what is real?
image of the bird fluttering in the sky
or the one still
in the gushing river
the wavy moon in the water
or the one above that is steady
Sukrita Paul Kumar is a former Fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, held the Aruna Asaf Ali Chair at Delhi University till recently. An honorary faculty at Corfu, Greece, she was an invited poet at the prestigious International Writing Programme at Iowa, USA. She has published several collections of poems, the recent ones being Country Drive and Dream Catcher. Her critical books include Narrating Partition, The New Story, and Conversations on Modernism. She has co-edited several books that include Ismat, Her Life, Her Times, Cultural Diversity in India, Speaking for Herself: Asian Women’s Writings. Her translations of fiction from Urdu and Hindi have been published by HarperCollins and Katha. Amongst many other fellowships and residencies of international significance, she was also invited to be an Honorary Fellow and resident poet at HK Baptist University, Hong Kong in 2004. Her special academic interests are: World Literature, Partition Literature, Gender Studies, Translation. She has held solo exhibitions of her paintings.
Three poems by Jhilmil Breckenridge
Kabul Memory, Number 99
In Kabul, women string meat on a clothesline
Flesh dries like linen pinned up to dry
Getting stiff with every passing day,
like my Nani’s sarees, starchy and crisp
I remember the day you said
you loved me, the joy
like magnolia buds blooming
in Spring, like birdsong on clear mornings
But love dries up if you hang it up
Love needs tending, gardening,
water, sunshine —
just like magnolias
Or maybe like the meat preserved by the sun—
once again tender in curries and spice—
one day, you come across a memory,
like a dried magnolia in a thick book,
and you can taste the sweetness,
the freshness of love
And you realize,
pickling, preserving, conserving
just mean you can feast on your own life
Looking Out My Window
—a COVID poem
A skylight lets in a triangle
of sun, mint grows in a window box.
A blue tit pecks at the window, hungry
for the peanut picnic, I lay.
My birds have long fled the roost—
I live alone, my company birdsong
and faraway traffic.
It is heard now
that we are the birds in cages.
Staying in to stay alive
while animals reclaim Earth again.
The sun triangle below
my skylight grows bigger.
The day yawns,
The Domestic Violence Toolkit
Twirl the cotton wick,
twisting between thumb and forefinger
Dip in mustard oil
Don’t forget — soak the diyas overnight
in a tub of cool water
Buy jasmine and gulab
Make some Rooh-Afza
Write an elegy
Look solemn and confounded
that this could happen
Greet guests, just the right hint of tears,
hinting to spill over
Light diyas near her photo
Shred petals of jasmine and gulab,
line the corners of the room
Then read the elegy
like a poem shielding truth
(previously published in the collection, Reclamation Song, Red River, New Delhi)
Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer, and activist. She is the founder of Bhor Foundation, an Indian charity, which is active in mental health advocacy. She advocates Poetry as Therapy and is working on a few initiatives, both in the UK and India, taking this into prisons and hospitals. Her debut poetry collection, Reclamation Song, was published in May 2018 by Red River Press, India, and in November 2019 by Verve Poetry Press, UK. She co-edited a collection of essays on mental health, Side Effects of Living (Speaking Tiger), and has an upcoming collection of edited essays and poems on Cooking as Coping.