This thin world and Other Poems

    by Arti Jain

    But before you ask how to eat a mango, learn how to choose one

    Don’t commit the folly of using your eyes to pick the best. Ripe, luscious, juicy. Tsk. Don’t have a clue, do you? Superficial fools! Listen, pay attention—close your eyes. Don’t peak.

    Hover over the fruit with other senses; smell, touch, gut, historical evidence. Breathe in earth’s soil-toil-turn-sweat-sweet-honey-nectar.  Breathe in deep, deeper than the lungs, beyond the crater where the umbilical was severed. Go all the way to where the kundalini sits – there—the spot that dings with an inexplicable heave when your mother tells you you’ve put on pounds. Do something about it, she says. She pats your head, her eyes fixed on your soft middle. Her voice is a cocktail—one third pity, two thirds fear when she says, don’t be mad. You know how laden with calories a slice of mango is.

    Slice? What sacrilege! Who takes a knife to a mango?

    Tsk.

    Put down your mother’s burdens. Look. Look at me. Let me show you your way back to the Indus. Listen. I shall not repeat.

    Caress, smell, seduce, suck, swallow, pinch, lick, gulp, hold the fruit with both your hands, all your fingers, lips, all at once.

    Puncture the tip with your teeth, undo the knots of traditions, spit out the bitter bit, knead the skin, tease the flesh, dig in—go deep, deeper still. Fondle the fibers with tongue/lips. Create new words from old vocabulary. Be hungry. Stay hungry for equality/equity.

    The juices will ooze and trickle. Let them. Don’t go answering phone calls/duty/guilt.  Keep at it.

    Sighs as deep as oceans may escape the hollows you hold within. What are you waiting for? Acceptance! Tsk.

    Don’t stop plundering till you reach the pit, the hard seed. Did I mention you should wear an armour before you start? Mangoes get messy when you question patriarchy. Egos are guillotined. Blood spills. Wash all evidence. Don’t let them suspect your awakening. Work ferociously. Let them wonder how you did it. You’ll wonder how you did it. Trust me. Don’t give up. They’ll accuse you of unsavoury things. Don’t pay heed.

    Tsk! Don’t look back, not at your mother or hers before or the stories of compromise dripping with sacrifice to keep the peace at home, in society. Tsk! Ask – the cost. Who’s paying the price?

    Listen to your inner Shakti commanding you to eat the fruit like you mean it. Like it is yours for the taking. Like you are an equal, enough and beautiful. Don’t go saving the best mangoes for only men; sons, brothers, husbands like your ancestors did.

    Don’t be quiet. Don’t quit.

    ***


    Silence

    We drive to the park for our weekend walk. You, me and our angry

    complaining silence                                 superglued to us tight. Shut.

    I turn the seams of my thoughts inside out

    can’t find any traces of the us we’ve practiced all these years.

    So, I turn the radio on—for company. Noise.

    When the war ends,
    we will cry
    We will cry
    but we will
    then start painting
    life, oranges, nature and laughter.

    On the rubberized path, silence

    chatters, shatters melodies

    birdsong—the neem is shedding…crunch, brown, static.

    My thighs rub songs, syllables, sighs.

    When the war ends,
    we will cry
    We will cry
    but we will
    then start painting
    life, oranges, nature and laughter.

    I imagine what it’s like to cry

    but fail to feel how release feels, flows, forgives.

    What will remain, retain of you us me this world our love when we peel away our silences?

    Will we singe cringe blame pain swallowed whole, dissolve unresolved?

    Or look at our raw nakedness as a sign of healing? A rediscovery?

     

    Notes:

    The lines in italics on the right-hand side are from a news story on Al Jazeera about the Palestinian museum in Ramallah (8th February 2024).

    In his interview, Mohammed Al- Samhouri (Palestinian artist) said: “We will cry but we will then start painting life, oranges, nature and laughter.”

    ***

     

    This thin world

    this thin world
    all full of talk

    talks of cyclones
    that blew out stars

    stars too dim to listen
    to prayers we send

    send to them as kites
    tethered to lines of crystal

    crystal when crushed
    cuts through flesh

    flesh bleeds, fridges rust
    this thin world

    ***

     

    We are not God

    “The sex is so good.” I used to gush like a mynah bird. Heard a bulbul sing recently? Intently? Kyun nahin, nahin, kyun nahin, nahin. Sounds don’t translate; words do. Be mindful where you place your words, your love. Making love is not the same as love making. Frangipani cradles the last run of sun in his lit-up groins; knobby tree trunks know light is a migrant. The day the surgeon’s solution glowered like a boon; I ate kadhi-chawal with blackened lemon pickle. My tongue lingered on the cold moon of the steel plate. “Live. You’re young. You have a young wife.” As distant as someone else’s grief, I heard the euphony of the two words—unstable bladder—placed side by side like us and why us and what if. Nerves carry impulses. Locked in my car, I cried once. Even while getting groceries. Our fingers, lips, skin, breath, eyes, pores remember the ripples. We are the shores those ripples seek. Come, let us let them quiver us once again. This is the love we are making – kyun nahin, nahin, kyun nahin,nahin. Ocean-songs of your heartbeat wash me salty. You snuggle deep. I close my eyes.

    Love is a paper boat sailing in swollen drains. We don’t need to create Adam and Eve.

    ***

     

    Hush

    When I was young, I saw whispers escape the fog
    of their memories and spread on the kitchen floor.

    They sat facing the fire burning the timber
    of tales of partition in such a way that it sealed

    the knots, grain of every pain felt, seen, heard—of sisters
    who jumped over cliffs to escape rape

    and the whimpering, starving tots they abandoned by country
    roads raging with freshly churned refugees.

    “We left behind full granaries, dragging
    our bodies—empty husks—alive enough to hold the haunting.”

    “Will they ever forgive us?” their voices hushed,
    crushed distances, histories.

    “Talk softly,” hissed my ancestors. “deewaran de wee kunn hondey nain.”
    Displaced, they buried their pride, roots, horrors in canisters.

    When I was young, I watched their whispers
    land on my blanket.

    Notes:

    dewarra de wee kunn hondey nain is a Punjabi proverb. Translation: Even the walls have ears.

    My grandparents became refugees overnight during the partition of India in 1947. In order to save us from the horrors they witnessed, they didn’t talk about the dark times at all. Many facts and anecdotes of who they were before and during the partition died with them. The recent wars (Palestine and Ukraine) have triggered old memories. This poem questions the cost of ‘lost’ histories of displaced people.

    ***

     

    Questions Frida Kahlo wanted to ask but painted ‘The Love Embrace, the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me and Senor Xoloti’ instead

    Is this love? Is mossy green the right shade for Earth?

    Why doesn’t love last? Why doesn’t blood? Why does this longing?

    How to paint gnawing? Can’t figure out and yet I paint brokenness, roots—why?

    Where did I read about Shiva’s third eye? Did they say it symbolizes rejecting the material world—the illusion of our reality?

    Will you, my viewer, notice the drop of milk? Have you ever loved anyone, loved them like I loved Diego, like I’ve loved the children I could never bring to birth? Is love comparable? Then why do I measure his against mine?

    Are we gashes on Earth? Is she bleeding to death? Are icons our apologies to the feminine who nurtures us? Is Madonna real? Surreal?

    What colour is apology— a ‘never will I break your heart again’ apology? How to mix the right shade of Universe?

    Were we too dark for Love, too heavy a burden? Is that why my lap is full but I have an empty womb?

    Arti Jain is a poet, an award-winning spoken word artist and an author. She lives in Doha, Qatar. Her work has appeared in The Kali Project, Kindle India Magazine, Gulmohur Quarterly, The Hooghly Review, Muse India, Poems India, Epistemic LiteraryBTWN and is forthcoming in Porch LitMag and National Flash Fiction. She has authored two books: And all the Seasons in between (Ukiyoto Publishing, June 2021) and Don’t Climb on The Bullock Cart (Parakeet Books, U.K. 2023). She writes and performs poetry in English and Hindi.

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