Five Poems

    By Ankush Banerjee

    1. Sukha

    Brockenhurtst Hospital, Brockenhurtst, 1915

    Perhaps, they were mere bodies,
    once-upon narratives to me.
    What would you call
    the dryness that comes
    to palms too wet
    from scooping drenched,
    bodies from trench slush.

    I see remnants
    of dying, sit
    on twisted coat-hangars,
    reside in dull, green-woollen socks,
    bodies with shrapnel
    smiling from throats,
    bayonets shredding echoes
    of the only silence
    possible in wet trenches,
    bodies too abstract, and
    sack like,
    to be called bodies.

    They were bodies to me –
    because that way
    I could know a god who was a neutral.
    Son, my mother had said, the source
    of light determines where
    the tunnel opens.

    In fighting and dying, we were supposed to
    be our equally disillusioned selves.
    But look at me,
    neither Hindu, nor Muslim, I seek
    consummation, and space
    in a church
    graveyard – death
    not the truant leveller
    it was supposed
    to be. I wish
    I too was more than a body to you –
    amounting to something, anything more.

    2. Cyst

    (for S)

    Cyst – a word
    we weld

    with something like
    hunger. Schist –

    the texture of
    Pangaea chapattis,

    shampooed lentils.
    Mist – fate’s

    anaphora veiling
    a fibroid-ridden uterus

    slowly changing
    everything. Kist –

    where we hid
    when we pained,

    our supple hearts becoming
    a site of learning

    throbbing with knowledge. Kissed –
    by a vacancy so large

    we could smell it
    on windowpanes. Palms,

    psalms, paeans, prayers –
    the gist – of a million

    helplessnesses that
    childhood of all ages

    is heir to. Blessed –
    when she took her first steps

    saying, now that I am better
    let me cook for you.

    3. Historical Triangulation as Coping Mechanism

                                                       1630 bullets

    In the evening
    after her children are tired
    of Assonance,
                        Algebra, Pascal’s Law,
                        and Periodic Tables,
    their mother tells them
    the story of their singularly
    mythical great-grandfather
    jauntily ambling to Jallianwala Bagh, and then
    being sieved by bullets          fired
    from .303 Enfield Rifles.
    Because the
    story is all heart,
    fleshed by borrowed memory,
    and almost no real detail, she could not
    have described the rustle of silence
    right before Dyer ordered,          ‘Fire!’
    Instead, she tells them
    of the shrieks, the panic,
    the frenzy after it ended,
    the Well whose waters
    still ran red, those
    Nanakshahi bricks along
    the narrow exit corridor,
    decorated with bullet wounds
    encircled by white chalk. She
    cannot possibly know that
    like her grandfather,
    those Nanakshahi bricks, and the
    narrow, deathly corridor
    will not exist in future. Feeling
    unnecessarily solemn, their
    throats sticky with sadness, the children
    fall asleep. Next day, they are woken
    by their father’s lamentations.
    They see him standing
    in front of the television,
    while an inexplicably
    animated reporter conveys, ‘THE TALIBAN
    The children do not know
    what is the Taliban, where is Bamiyan,
    or who is Buddha. Still sobered by
    their mother’s story,
    they know now is not the time
    to make word-strings like,
    of any new words they learn.

    4. After the War, to Shoot an Albatross

    At that time,
    we resided between words,
    and their meanings,
    sipping from one,
    or the other, like eager
    hatchlings receiving wet morsels.
    Beauty meant the smell of tal
    schoolyard tree meant
    paper-ball hand-cricket in the shade,
    wars meant spit-balls in history class,
    and War veteran meant an old man we saw
    each afternoon, sitting on a long-chair
    in his porch, smoking, reading, the sun
    glistening through his dog-tags.
    He was not unusual to look at, though
    more than one of us
    thought of him in class,
    when we read Hemingway.
    Most afternoons were listlessness,
    snoring, the shade of a Portia tree,
    cigarette smoke, and us, wide-eyed
    ruffians quietly spotting mangoes
    in his front yard.
    At times he got up, waved at us,
    handing a bottle of cold water, and dozing
    on that mythical chair. One afternoon,
    we spotted a newspaper-tent on his crotch,
    concealing, what we thought was wood,
    though, it could be more torpidity
    than desire. Something we still can’t name,
    arose in the base of our spines.
    We stood at eye-shot, taking aim,
    waiting, waiting, waiting
    for the newspaper to slide.
    Was it Rudra, Phani, Jal, or
    me, who lobbed the first stone?
    We would never know. The stone missed!
    Then another, and another,
    which found the ashtray. It tripped
    off the table, dislodging ash, butts,
    burnt ends of so many boredoms.
    He was awake now, wild-eyed, coming at us,
    the newspaper still covering his midriff,
    dog-tag dangling through white chest-hair

    We never did glimpse
    what lay beneath
    the newspaper-tent. But in all future
    retellings, we see whale, blow-fish,
    sting-ray, the throbbing edge of melancholy
    never far from our voice.

    5. Myths We Make

    My considerate working-class parents
    indulged me with chocolates by my bedside
    each Christmas, they said,
    came from Santa Claus.
    I left lavish Thank You notes
    on the night of every 24th.
    Movies, I was told were ‘real’,
    though what I watched in a film –
    deaths, treasures, dacoits, aliens,
    revolutions – I could never
    spot in News channels
    my father watched each evening.
    Nonetheless, I wrote sympathy notes
    to dislocated children, separated lovers,
    failed heroes, telling them,
    “they’d be fine, they’d be okay, as long as
    there was no Algebra in their lives”.
    In 1996, my mother’s belly
    began to swell. This had
    something to do with my loneliness
    showing itself as a petulant six year old
    standing outside a Grocery Store, asking
    if, “babies were available for sale!”
    I wrote petitions to my parents, grandparents,
    aunts, neighbours, querying if being alone
    was the only requisite for citizenship in their midst.
    That was when Lord Shiva came into our home,
    each night, making something
    of a baby sister/brother, growing inside
    my mother’s stomach. Mondays – was hair,
    Tuesdays – fingers, Wednesdays – skin,
    and so on. I started leaving Thank you notes,
    chocolates, perhaps a glass of water each night.
    None of these were found
    in the mornings.
    When I met my blob-of-a-sister
    in the hospital, I whispered to her,
    Shiva is your father. My mother keeps
    the letters I wrote
    to Santa Claus, movie characters,
    Lord Shiva, in her Bank vault
    beside her jewellery, as if
    locking it up, would somehow
    stop us from growing up.

    Ankush Banerjee is a mental health professional, and poet currently based in Delhi. His poetry can be found or is forthcoming in Indian Literature, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Vayavya, Aainanagar, Eclectica, Mithila Review and elsewhere. He is pursuing his PhD in Masculinity Studies from BITS, Pilani.

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