"Now where do the ghosts live? I ask.": Three poems by Amlanjyoti Goswami

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"Now where do the ghosts live? I ask.": Three poems by Amlanjyoti Goswami

Poetry by Amlanjyoti Goswami

The Memory of Rain

(for Zenzi)

Years ago, one July afternoon, when you were four
The monsoon rains lashed suddenly at our balcony.
There was just you and I,
And I…wanted to bring you the feel of first rain -

The pouring slant of sky, like a hurried sketch in faint white,
The patter that bounced off the ledge
And splashed at our ears, hair and bare feet sloppy with trouble.
The surprise of the spear hurled over the sky,

Bouncing off concrete, iron, green to our eyes.
It was a torrent, the beginning of those sudden bursts
That take days, even months to come,
And is over in an hour.

You reached out, your little fingers so near yet too far
To catch what was going on
In my head. That you would remember this day, one day,
And tell someone that you felt rain for the first time.

Instead, you were soon sleepy (it all happened within moments
Of our crackling with the rain) and before we knew it,
Your eyes turned inwards, and you were off to a land only you knew.
Outside, the rains pattered, they kept coming, but slower now

More measured, as if it had aged too, in the last hour, and knew
How to keep a safe distance from the swell of emotion, and not
Venture too far from the lost empires of reason.
The rain has stopped now, as I write, or if it does pour, it grows quiet

Softly, gently, like your breathing. You are awake to another world
And it is dark in the room, the blinds drawn, the sputter of the moment
That has already passed.
When I awoke, the little drops were casting impressionist spells

On the yellowed walls outside,
A drop at a time, soon to sprinkle, to drizzle.
I remembered for some reason, Sisley, not Monet.
And I find it hard to tell you why,

For one day, you will go to the museum of innocence, the art gallery
Where all civilization will lie restored, and remember this.
You will see a Sisley painting
And wonder what in it reminded your father

Of yellowed iron-sooted flaking walls, dripping,
Trickling with anticipation, with feeling.
What in it spelled rain.
You will read this many years later.

***

WT (without ticket)

sometimes you ask
what it was like

and i tell you it was wonderful
but risky

a high wire act
travelling like that

sometimes on the floor
metal of the rail track clanging ears

into silence
sometimes with homebound army men

who offer biryani and crude jokes
and keep the collector at bay.

mostly it was about waiting
for an empty seat which never came

as unknown stations and cow fields passed by
sometimes the breath of sunset

rain pattering face through metal bars
mixed with sweat and rusted iron

but always cool to touch,
that closes eyes and brings a smile

even to the unknown face watching you
like an interloper.

food was never a problem.
boiled eggs, sharings from fellow travellers, the first bajra roti.

company was plenty, others
on shorter distances, not adventurers for two days

rummy gambles on battered suitcases resting on thighs
sometimes a drink to go by

sometimes a couple meeting across compartments
for the first time

when the train rumbles over broken bridges dead of night
and drowns careless whispers

and you wonder if you would be the only one left
to see the sunrise

till dawn breaks quiet as
your first fluttering eyelashes

before cups of chai chai does the rounds
and wake you up the second time

tea comes punctual as the delayed train
measuring dreams with saccharine attention

and then suddenly the grinding halt,
that wakes everyone up, even the last straggling drunk on the floor

a chain pulled, the world had stopped
in the middle of a paddy field filled with cow dung cakes

and climbing down to check the scene
and finding nothing but

a couple of curious wayfarers with toothbrush in hand
cow swinging tail, endless dryland, houses not yet born

waiting for the driver's green flag
one more signal to move on

and then the sinking feeling as the train drew near
the familiar shores of home

as the drylands gave way to banana leaves and coconut green
and you knew this was familiar at first sight

even with eyes closed, as the heat of the day
turned into a rainy wet feeling

and you knew you were nearing the sights of things known
that you gave up, that you were running away from

and that feeling of what next what next as the train climbed the
final frontier and reached the home stretch

and stopped at the bridge by the giant river
as if to give you time, to take a deep breath, take it in

the journey was coming to an end and you dear soul, endless wanderer
had no other place to go.

***

After the Funeral

1.

No house now.
Let me travel,
A breeze soaring into
Busy city
The same breeze at morning
Opens windows.
Wings flap
The dawn of dusk.

Finally rested,
Let me roam now that I am
Free

2.

We gather
In the big house
Once a splendid palace,
Now a sad shrug of a tall branch
Its roots still alive.

Now where do the ghosts live?
I ask.
The ground floor or the first?

Ground, she replies,
A little pensive.
She lived on the first

Her childhood home
Free at last.

3.

Guests leave one by one,
All shades - in white -
Ritualists, friends, spirits of
Days past.

Leaving her, alone,
Holding a baby who looked
Just like
Her grandmother.

***

Amlanjyoti Goswami’s recent collection of poems, River Wedding (Poetrywala) has been widely reviewed. His poetry has been published in journals and anthologies around the world. His poems have also appeared on street walls of Christchurch, exhibitions in Johannesburg, an e gallery in Brighton and buses in Philadelphia. He has read in various places, including in New York, Delhi and Boston. He grew up in Guwahati and lives in Delhi.

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