Four Poems

by Dipika Mukherjee

Generations

Protima (The Goddess)

The Goddess astride a lion,
spear-tip dug into the bleeding heart of
dying mahisasur, is power incarnate,
creation-destruction in female form.
The drumbeats rise above murmured
mantras. Incantations spiral like incense
smoke mixed with coconut husks,
fog up towards the heavens; the idol
takes on life for five days a year,
awakened by the drums, the chants,
a dancer’s trance. Five days,
the mother-preserver, flowers at her
feet, stands among human children.

Ya devi sharbabhuteshu shaktirupena shanghastita
namastatye, namastatye, namastatye, namoh, namah.
(O Goddess who is in every form the incarnation of strength,
I bow to you, I bow to you, I bow to you, I bow to you.)

Boroma (Great-grandmother)

You were of harlot beauty, eight years young
when old men searching youth’s choicest blossoms
crossed the cold marble halls. Your father’s house
was abuzz; frenzied flies mimicked flurried
servants laden with foods, dripping with ghee,
saffron, pistachio, milk, and you were
the Sweet. You flinched in shyness when
the old man, searching for his son’s bride,
tilted your chin to peer into the flame
of your dark child-eyes and drowned; taking you.
Thus was your youth wed to old lust;
a brahmin’s will made you the third, child-wife.

You spent many nights tracing mango leaves,
the ephemeral patterns on a moonlit ceiling;
at fifteen fled your bed of want,
tumbling from the window a burgeoning bud,
then fell, three stories down. Your sari
undraped, you fled your shackles, swam
the woman-river flowing from the heavens;
the Ganges took you home.

He came for you; this time, your eyes afire,
you quietened the marble halls, the chill walls
resounded with the silence of your anger. They
called you evil for you had defied your Lord. You
had the madness of life, annihilating to create,
and from the ashes of the child-bride rose
a new relationship. When you went back
your poet-husband created art in a
tribute, immortalized your strength
in faded pages of an ancient book
treasured by my Dadu, your grandson.

Thakuma (Paternal Grandmother)

Gold anklets are sacrilegious, so your
infant feet tinkled silver. You were a
cherished child, only daughter. Cocooned,
you grew to womanhood, knowing your worth
in gold. Then shenai strains mingled with fragrant
sandalwood and rosewater, as you shimmered
in red brocade, your face glinting
with jewels, bracelets on glistening arms.
As you circled the sacred fire seven
times, your father muttered ancient
mantras, giving the gift of a virgin.

Warring nations forced you to flee the land
of your birth. You lost your husband in an
alien land, looked at seven infant mouths
and willed yourself to live. Widowed, you were
shorn of hair, arms bracelet bare, vermilion
scraped, your color pale white as your
widowhood. Those were desperate years.
You lost a child to illness; another, seeking heat
on a chill night, crawled into the open fire.
You sifted through the ashes of burnt hopes
and survived; like rice replanted in alien
fields, you gave your children a place
to grow, creating life out of chaos.
Your fourthborn became my father.

Prarthana (a prayer)

I am restless, twenty-six years heavy
with the burden of things
undone,
unsaid.

Yet I am no phoenix to burn, burn, burn
into a glorious flame of creation.
Let that cup pass.
I want rebirth without trauma,
life without destruction.

Ya devi sharbabhuteshu shaktirupena shanghastita
namastatye, namastatye, namastatye, namoh, namah.

*Generations” appeared in Tongue’s Palette: Poetry by Linguists, Chicago: Atlantis-Centaur, 2004, 85-88.

Migration, Exile…These Are Men’s Words

Migration, Exile…these are men’s words.
Women have always been torn up
like rice seedlings to be replanted
in marriage (or another name);
my language weeps its wedding melodies
in many dialects, many tunes
In my next life, O God, don’t make me a daughter:

Exile, Migration…what meaning then?

I am no woman-poet-migrant-in-exile.
Keep your labels, please.

I am not tamed by toil, shoulders stiff
with xenophobia; nor a person of colour
shunted to workshops where grievances
grow in collegiality. I am a nomad,
homeless, rootless, I am the zephyr —
the vayu that breezes past rooted trees.
I swish past suburbs, four-bedroomed homes,
theatered basements, the two-car garage;
nothing stops me as I skim by brooks
snake to large rivers, course by course,
I am fed by a hunger, sharper than
life, to live in this;to suck bare
a skin, tender as peeled lychees, always
terrified that there may not be another
rebirth to appeal to.

For now, there is this. New
beginnings, another journey,
roads unravelling untraveled.

I find my muse as much
as she finds me, without
home or temple, veena
in hand, book in another,
in the feminine infinite we
make our home.

*“Migration, Exile…These Are Men’s Words” first appeared in Sugarmule (USA), May 2013.

Turn away

…two teenage girls were gang-raped and then hanged from a tree in a village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh… Reuters, Thu May 29, 2014

from hemp ropes on slender necks, the embroidery glinting on a kameez,
let susurrations visit the unrooted. Was the younger almost asleep, tunelessly humming,
when the older hissed, Come, I need to go now, water-can in hand towards malignant fields?
The villagers squat on dusty haunches, think of moonglint on unfastened buckles, khaki pants,
the thrust of earth rising. There is anger, and lewd spectacle, in the gaze of old men.

Sing, sing the myths of Mother Earth unzippered as refuge.
Oh, Mithya – Lies! — look, babies unshoveled into the earth only blossom into meat,
swinging from the sky.

*“Turn Away” first appeared in The Aerogram (USA), August 2014.

This Shawl

The hideous gang-rape in Delhi is part of the continuum of violence millions of Indian women face every single day…The Hindu, December 19, 2012.

In Delhi, drape age as a shawl. Be silent. Invisible.
The decades shield a body, the spreading contours (like
a burqa in the wind) merely hinting at sexuality. Sometimes
–not always– age allows freedom to pass through piss-
filled backlanes, untouched by men who catcall and jostle
against breasts, masturbate on buses, reach out to fondle
a pubis publicly.

Years ago, a broken bus in Delhi forced a night walk
past the ramparts of Purana Qila. Dimly lit turns
cowered, each shapechanger Rape in its mustachioed
menace, waiting to pull apart labial lips in the primal scream,
destroying the only thing a young woman is responsible for
safeguarding, her impenetrability; her mate, her education,
the dominion of others.

Through the years this shawl, stained by the slow drip
of semen on a local train, the sudden shock of a penis
behind the guise of a lost traveller near home, the embrace
of a male relative, a stranger’s grope; this shawl, woven
with the collective memories of women shamed by
Why-only-you? How-did-you-ask-for-it; this shawl, like
our dupattas and anchals, meagre veils against men
brought up badly; this shawl knows how tenuous
the threads, how easily torn…This shawl,
is now part of the communal sloughing,
slouching uneasily towards losing
all our cover-ups.

Dipika Mukherjee has her home in Chicago but trawls the world for fabulous stories and smelly food (the durian is a favourite). You can read about her work at www.dipikamukherjee.com.

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