Three Poems

By Jonaki Ray

1. Sarajevo

for Jasminko Halilovic
“I have seen the face of sorrow.
It is the face of
the Sarajevo wind leafing through newspapers
glued to the street by a puddle of blood …”— Goran Simic
      A blue compass
      the letters to the high-school crush
      the candy-striped-clad Barbie
      the plastic lemony apple with teeth marks
      the teddy bears
      the friends who are suddenly ‘on the other side’
      the collection of food cans testifying to the charity of others
      the colouring books
      seeds from the horse chestnut trees that propped mock
football matches
interrupted by lightning moves from shelter to shelter
an assembly of memories instead of children

2. The Man Who Predicted His Own Death

His legs jerking like a lizard’s tail
while the cops tried to force-feed him,
knew that the dam had been sanctioned,
the officials bribed,
the river banks concretised,
the villages flooded,
the villagers maggoted into cities.

      Yet, he still fought for the river, warning
      that this river will rage again, if dammed, yet again
      just like this river had once flowed from the heavens with such force
      that all the sages and gods had prayed to Shiva,
      to save the earth from being swept away

      To him this river was his mother.
      Just like the trees were family
      to the women from the villages up the river,
      who chained themselves to the trees,
      blocked the loggers, and sang:
      “Kill us if you want to cut the trees.
      We are one and the same”
      until the loggers had to leave.

            A tree is not a forest.
            But even trees know
            that to survive
            they have to offer food through their roots
            and not cross into the canopy of each other.

Note: The Man Who Predicted His Own Death is inspired by Prof G. D. Agarwal who fasted unto death in 2018 in protest against the building of dams along the river Ganga. Also, by the Chipko (sticking to something) movement that occurred in the 1970s among the villages of the foothills of the Himalayas, in which village women linked hands and formed barricades around trees to prevent loggers from cutting any more trees in that area. Lastly, it is inspired the fact that recent research has shown that trees are known to offer nutrients to each other through their roots, even after they have been cut down (Source: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben). We have a lot to learn from nature. This poem was published at the Joya:AiR website in summer 2021.

3. Six Feet

Six feet stuck out
from the maroon quilt
as Abba woke early,
queued for rations.
Amma polished our shoes
combed our hair,
readied us for our miles-long
walk to and from our school.
Six feet was the length
of my room shared with three
as we juggled classes, cooking,
learnt English, and cleaned
dishes, scraping leftovers for later.
Six feet was the driveway that I cleaned every day
unable to believe that I have
my own house, and enough
money to travel home.
Six feet was the distance
from which my wife watched
as my passport and the right accent,
the right clothes, the right papers, even the right “card” got checked.
Six feet is the span of the cell
where I was detained
where I hear the cries of others
who like me wait to belong.
Six feet in the ground
will be mine in the end.

Note: On January 27th, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, which took immediate effect to bar admission to the U.S. of all people with non-immigrant or immigrant visas from seven countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for 90 days. It also barred entry to all refugees from anywhere in the world for 120 days, and placed an indefinite ban on refugees from war-torn Syria. Two Iraqi brothers who worked with the United States military in Iraq and had been granted special visas were the first to be detained due to this order. They were ultimately let go.

Jonaki Ray was educated in India (Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur) and the USA (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign). A scientist by education and training, and a software engineer (briefly) in the past, she is now a poet, writer, and editor in New Delhi, India. She is a 2017 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest, ESL, winner, and has been shortlisted for multiple other awards, including the 2021 Live Canon Chapbook Contest and the 2018 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize.

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