Feeding my Ancestors and Other Poems

    by Pushpanjali

    A Treatise on Cooking

    “Dry-hearted as Peer Gynt
    I pare away, no hero,
    merely a cook.”
    – Peeling Onions, Adrienne Rich

     

    I want to be all things earth-bred,
    multi-layered like a cabbage,
    yellowing, browning,
    intimate with my own entrails,
    and yet not packed to capacity
    in the cage of my mind.

     

    I want the utilitarian kindness of leftovers:
    offal and bones
    and meat scraps and trimmings,
    and the remaining guilt of
    violence’s sanctioned consumption.

     

    When I have cooked all that I desire,
    I want my heart to break itself out
    of my ribcage
    and come sit on my sleeve
    to have a final taste of freedom.

     

    Like a haruspex¹,
    I want to be able to identify the omens
    absorbed in my organs:
    the post-purging breaking of the cells,
    soul spilling like an overflowing jug of sherbet,
    sins stiffening in the ecosystem of death.

     

    Science says that the enzymatic bodily rot starts
    in the liver
    and in the brain
    for all that’s liquid
    has the instinctive recognition of freedom.

     

    Tongue lapping at the shore of hunger,
    I wait to be spilled out
    from my own body,
    brimming with purpose
    like a holy river.

     

    ¹Haruspex: In ancient Rome, a religious official who interpreted omens by examining the entrails of sacrificial animals.

    ***

     

    Feeding my Ancestors

    They tell me that you are what you eat,
    so,
                  I offer to make you a new menu.

     

    In addition to the annual serving of
    rice balls and jaggery,
    mutely lined near riverbanks
    that hold no obligations
    to pay the debt of grief,
                  I offer you an understanding of hunger,
    the memory of which gets stacked
    rebirth after another for us
    to carry along like the aftertaste
    of our prayers.
                  I offer you my hunger,
    which is as beastly
    as the facilitators of your moksha:
    the crows and the dogs,
    the gluttonous exiles that, like water,
    know the address of the dead.
                  I offer you my pirate’s treasures of childhood:
    seeds of tamarind and wild berries,
    and the time-worn scars from
    the forbidden climbing of the trees.
                  I offer you a seat on vertigo’s carousel
    to regurgitate the offenses of the past.
                  I offer you the reflections in our inherited mirrors
    that still house the apparitions of women
    who once blinked and nodded,
    and had no friends
    but now they speak to me,
    and together we long for you.
    We don’t wish you the terror of dusk,
    nor the flipside of heaven,
    but we would like you to disassemble
    in splinters of repentance.
    Having amassed all that I have,
                  I offer you a feast of forgiveness
    on the folds of my belly,
    then wait for a crow
    to come peck at my liberation.

    ***


    Morsels of Dissent

    “Eating is her subject.
    While eating is her subject.
    Where eating is her subject.”
    – Christian Bérard, Gertrude Stein

     

    I

    Eating,
    I picture myself in a kingdom
    of shunned women,
    saggy-breasted and loose-toothed,
    hunched and anaemic.
    The women are green and blue and
    evolving.
    Humanoid offshoots, puckered-faced
    and hungry, hang from their hair.
    They let me join the throng,
    overjoyed for a helping hand.
    We grind masala and peel vegetables.
    We light a fire and stir the gravy.
    Someone starts a song
    that sounds like a call of peacocks
    heralding the arrival of rain.

    II

    While eating,
    we feign indifference to
    the ghosts flitting about.
    They are women too,
    our grandmothers and their mothers.
    The ghosts berate us for not saving
    a share for their husbands and sons.
    We remind them that the men
    are at the entranceway, waiting
    like mantises ready to ambush us,
    their hunt.
    We work our loose teeth
    to finely grind our fury,
    which we knead to make dough,
    which we shape into women,
    which we throw at mantis-men.
    The men eat our fury.

    III

    Where eating
    without remembering the forefathers
    is a sin, we leave our family gods
    in a lidded cauldron
    where they bicker like inmates
    under the passionate precipitation
    of our cravings.
    We are unremarkable with
    the way we worship.
    We forget our prayers
    and forgive hunger’s swift return,
    munching on the names of men
    we purged.
    The land begins to stir.
    We sit in rows, stitching burlap sacks
    to carry the harvested humanoids.
    We will carry them like chattels
    with spines cracked from labour.

    ***

     

    Dhumavati*

    I am told my weight in bird carcasses,
    hollow-boned, as gilded deities.

    My mother wants me to eat with purpose,
    and I find myself perturbed
    by the weight of her suggestion.

    I tell her of Dhumavati, the old hag goddess,
    who, upon finding herself hungry,
    attempted to eat her husband.
    Through this case study, I try to present hunger as
    a mere catalyst –
    You eat when you eat, if you must eat, then so you eat.

    My mother scolds me for inventing
    strange goddesses to suit my agendas.

    But I do know hunger’s purpose,
    its anatomy, which is as primordial as
    the wild impulse of scavengers –
    flesh flies and old-world vultures,
    and corvids with their celestial intelligence.

    This is the new age, and I am a new age girl.
    I am as limber as an egret,
    keeping near my water source.
    I am sedentary
    from carrying the exhaustion of my past life.
    On new moon nights, I bask in the fridge’s
    light in the cold awakening of a.m.,
    tasting the bitter air of stale food.
    I endure gravity’s pull despite the airiness of my body.

    But my mother wants me to eat with purpose.

    Maybe on the next night of maiden moon,
    I will join Dhumavati in her hungry wandering.
    A winnowing basket in hand,
    we will go knocking on doors,
    asking other women to lend us their
    appetite’s purpose.

    *Dhumavati, a Hindu goddess, symbolizes hunger, thirst, need, and poverty. She is often depicted as an old, ugly woman riding a crow and is sometimes seen as a form of the goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva.

    Pushpanjali is a poet, independent researcher, and student of English Literature from Jharkhand, India. Her poems have been featured in both print and online publications such as More than Melanin, ASAP | art, Gulmohur Quarterly, Narrow Road Journal, Nightingale & Sparrow, among others. Her research interests lie in feminist theory and literary studies, while her creative work primarily focuses on the intersection of themes including the body, environment, gender, and the enduring impressions of her own rural identity.

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