"I want to hear these birds sing. / But I crush cardamom pods and roses instead": Two Poems by Jagdeep Raina

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"I want to hear these birds sing. / But I crush cardamom pods and roses instead": Two Poems by Jagdeep Raina

Poetry by Jagdeep Raina

This feature appears in the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators x Bengaluru Review Special Issue: Step Outside the Frame, September 2020.

Archive Lover Bird

i

The last time i fell in love with archives
was looking at an old photograph downloaded from Punjabi dharti

a depiction of Punjabi birds printed on old carbon paper
NeelKanth, Indian Roller, Baaj Kabooter

cadet grey, chestnut Kabooter
Kali Galree, ink black feathers, a streak of white

Kali titar, facing left, beak poised to sing
lime green Chota Patera

soft pink bulbul, dark purple wings
Birds once flying through the foothills of the Himalayas

I tried looking for them in Pakistan.
Pakistan. Brimming with weak sunlight

Lahore coated in air
thick with dusty smog

Foreign fingers bleached with Purell hand sanitizer
sticking out of a black and white tote bag

made from cheap synthetic kupra purchased from Fabric land.
A plastic water bottle, notebook, a Fuji camera

dangling from rickshaws with scorched rusty steel bars
I tried looking for them on the Grand Trunk Road

The old winding markets at Anarkali Bazar
The holy skies of Kartarpur

I want you to carry me past invisible border lines
Look at how the ghosts of partition still watch us

ii

The last time I fell in love with archives
was a faded copy of Samsar Chand Kaul

a manuscript from 1939
Birds of Kashmir, published by Lachman Dar

Normal Press Srinagar pages
digitized as a fresh PDF

Masarji said that in Ladakh
the crow seen on the roofs of a house

is supposed to forebode evil
I want to be unselfish, so i can set myself free

The Tickell’s Thrush has brown iris with green yellow eye-rim.
They are seen in the Gati Willow Orchards in the spring

sometimes making bird nests entirely of thread
found in the verandah of a garden where the shawl-wallas

once embroidered their pashmina buteh.
I think of the Indian Tailorbird too

who uses its beak as a sewing needle.
I want to hear these birds sing.

But I crush cardamom pods and roses instead
soaking them in warm tea with almonds

Coiling and smoothing out muslin
the needle slicing open cotton. Slow and gentle cuts.

I need you to unspool and unwind your silk thread.
I need you to create delicate, soft brush-strokes in embroidery.

***

Two Photographs

Lavender Chunni, grey and black
hair. Beige and light brown salwar kameez. She caresses her
hair. Fixes her chunni, the
delicate soft cloth. A nose ring that is made from thick
copper jewellery. A
gift given to her by her Sus and Sora
She puts in the nose ring once more.

She had put in the nose ring after so
many years. It was still early in the
morning before they posed for
the photograph, looking
for it in a battered suitcase that
was given to her by a brother
long since vanished now into the diaspora
The suitcase is peeling with faded
stickers of the smiling slim woman with her hands.

Her hands folded, a purple sari
a red bindi posing with a slogan Namaskar
Come Fly With Us, It is our pleasure
to serve you, Air India, Nineteen
Seventy Six. Touches her nose-ring
and remembers Thayaji picking her up the night before
her wedding, draping her over his
shoulders like a bag of potatoes, carrying
her amidst screeching boliyan

The wooden spoons are being
hit against manjas. Her last
night as the daughter of this pind. Her Husband is
thinning only in his late
forties but his dhari the colour of snow
splashes of grey struggling to remain
he sits beside her, A thick framed
photograph of a young dapper handsome man.

Together the husband and wife
sit on the manja. The other photograph they hold has
become black and white. It is
tiny, dangling like a cobweb from the woman’s hand.
a smiling young man with
his eyes still innocent. The promise of rich
soils and vegetation dreams

He hoped to harvest like his ancestors
this is a land that has sat happily
at the feet of your neighbour
Kashmir, always close by
always nurturing, always so kind
these fierce kinships always intertwined
for centuries, something we keep on forgetting.

Take a sponge. Now scrub at all this greed
a mindset with a scarcity that’s so deep

It is slowly bursting at the seams,
all for a little bit of this dangerous money.
and these high-yield seed varieties
intensive irrigation, drainage
chemical fertilizers, and these
pesticides, these widespread soil erosions, low forest cover
and these declining water tables
and these landscapes ripped apart
a hundred thousand suicides

The husband and wife sit
together once more with the
photograph on the manja because it has now
become their everything and
no one knows his name anymore for
he is disappearing into
memory.

***

Jagdeep Raina is an artist and emerging poet based in Guelph, Ontario. He holds an MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and has been an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Madison Maine, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Massachusetts, the Camden Arts Centre/Slade School of Fine Art in London, England and the Miriam Dawood School of Art and Design in Lahore, Pakistan.

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