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,
chocolate-bodied,
soldiered-bodied
bodies from trench slush.
Bodies.

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
HAVE DESTROYED BAMIYAN BUDDHAS’.
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,
Taliban-shaliban-kaliban-laliban,
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
cum,
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.

Subscribe to our newsletter To Recieve Updates

    The Latest
    • An interview with the Editors of Poetry at Sangam

      Taking down Poetry at Sangam must have generated a plethora of flashbacks of

    • The Usawa Newsletter February ‘24

      How JLF helped me with my undiagnosed dyslexia and ADHD In the bustling city of

    • Artists’ representation of the human body by Ruchika Juneja

      the years of growing up were spent in finding ways to belong and belonging in

    • Preface to Mumbai Traps by Anju Makhija

      the years of growing up were spent in finding ways to belong and belonging in

    You May Also Like
    • Her Bloody Sunrise By Sena Chang

      dark, cold, and damp she sits curled in her precious cave

    • Mercy and Other Poems By Danish Husain

      Like a ribbed Sun My days are grey strips Shuffling through swaths Of your

    • “Old Woman Komboothi”, a short story by Ra Azhagarasami, translated from the Tamil by Padma Narayanan

      Old woman Komboothi was probably over seventy years old Among all the people her

    • The Body Selects Her Own Society by Rituparna Sengupta

      when i walk into a room these days, the first feature i notice are its windows