"Perhaps, numbers are neutral / useful only for setting limits": Three poems by Ankush Banerjee

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"Perhaps, numbers are neutral / useful only for setting limits": Three poems by Ankush Banerjee

Poetry by Ankush Banerjee

Articulating Apocalypse

listen:
to be able to count or not to count is the question;
whether its nobler in the mind to count
the many tragedies and blessings which befall us
or to take arms against
and by forgetting, end them. To count, to suffer
no more; and by forgetfulness to say we end
the heartache, and the disappointment that awareness
is heir to. Perhaps, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

But say, we don't know, have never known came as the blue pill,
don't have the syntax of one dos teen quatre
can't articulate birds, leaves, stars, love, except
for by looking at them, don't know
the speed of light, g, G, Avagadro's number,
trigonometry, or how to build pyramids, Eiffel tower,
astronomical charts, computer algorithms, even write
music since notes are number written in another language,
where would that leave us?

And red is too much of it, over and over:
6 million in the last genocide, 3 million during partition
60,000 at Nagasaki, 2760 degree Celsius the measure of
Napalm's sweetness, 1500 metres per second the speed
of a bullet that is lodged in the memory of father sleeping in snow,
six rapists - all of them dead, and hence, zero,
three dates until we fell in love, two kisses until we made love,
one slap until we woke up from the full-blooded Dolce vita of
an everafter only felt but never seen -
perhaps, numbers are neutral

useful only for setting limits.

***

Two Clumsy Porcupines Eating Ice Cream

Through my window, I see an unusually large bougainvillea conceal
two wo-bb-ly porcupines urgently searching for a burrow.
Foxes the size of hope, cackle in the dark. An owl appears
from nowhere, cutting the night like a knife or
memory the mind.

It is all very soothing – this balmy evening,
the ruminating, the calmly crawling beneath
the arc of solitude. The couple next door are
making dinner. The air smells of cardamom and chilly,
of comfort and routine mingling with the 8 PM news.
The owl spots a movement in the shrub.
An argument ensues about having a baby. He wants one.
She wants him to pass the salt. He wants to name her Bea.
She wants to collect volcanic ash from the Kilauea.
The owl dives for its prey, but swerves sharply – saving itself
as if from a random traffic accident.

They are winding up. Silence the size of house
fills the home. I see the porcupine waddle towards
the gutter. Its mane of thorns a frozen explosion
in motion. The foxes have ceased their nonsense.
He stands outside, smoking. She calls for him.
There is ice cream. Mint and Chocolate. When he turns,
our eyes meet. We are both embarrassed
As men typically are. I expect an argument again.
But something has sobered in each of us.

Perhaps, the thought of ice cream.

***

My Sister Strongest

(for A)

& this is how we learn that gods
are imperfect as an irate father
too tired of being who he is.

We dance, make pictures of home with withered
crayons, run through the fields,
carry papery wings of a blue butterfly
in palms too soft for poems,
listen to the slow burr
carrying away versions of us
always awaiting approval.

My sister once wrote a poem
imagining his death –
the lines a slow preparation
for the inevitable
as all love is. It was a poem that could
be found in the last breaths
of a beautiful man resembling Rome.
But when she saw him
be the only man his history
of 64 years would permit him to be -
scowling at her for 'her many boyfriends'
who were 'guy friends',
she turned away,
as women do
when the heart becomes a bruised Clementine,
poured herself cereal and milk
and prepared to go to work.

She knew words are mere signs. Their meaning
shifting, as the light shifts.

The thing which mattered
was good breakfast.

***

Ankush Banerjee  is a mental health professional, poet and Research Fellow at IIM, Rohtak. He maiden volume of poetry, An Essence of Eternity was published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi in 2016. His poem, Righteous Among the Nations won the third prize at the 2019 All India Poetry Competition. His work has appeared in Indian Literature, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Vayavya, Eclectica, Cha, and elsewhere. He can be found at Cats Who Read, re-imagining his favourite novels with his two cats (obviously!) playing his favorite characters.

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