Three Poems

    By Siddharth Dasgupta

    1. The Human Skin in Five Diagrams

    Freedom is a second skin.

    If you’re a refugee, you wrap it in fabric and faith.
    You store it away in the only chest you were allowed to
    carry, bearing a family of seven as a fractured portrait.
    You often confuse remembrance for truth. You pray
    to God and this ocean he commands, for a sudden
    surge to not infiltrate your dreams, on this voyage
    across these shores of life and the occasional flickering
    of blood. You shelter it from those demons of war
    and the flames that raged the night you ran, your notions
    of a homeland eviscerating as mist. You cradle it, you
    croon to it, you obsess over it, as you once obsessed
    over love. You season it with tears and lavish it with
    a desperate rub of turmeric, hoping that the dark vessel
    and its hidden chambers deliver you to that which you
    now hold, crave, and taste—as a harbinger of hope,
    as a memento of home, as a lullaby of loss.

    Freedom is a second skin.

    If you’re an exile (termed expat if you’re European
    or American, migrant if you’re anything else),
    you caress it as you would a childhood tune. You hum
    it as you roam the strange cobble of a foreign road,
    your eyes lost in the mischievous stanzas of a forgotten
    youthful song. You sense it in the sudden aroma
    of a piece of meat simmering on the streets, your past
    and your present mingling in a cauldron of the things
    you’ve embraced, and the things which you’ve learned
    to let go. Whenever you’re anywhere near water,
    you crave it as you would a lover’s dark kiss—thistle,
    rushes, and bracken crush, the brine-scented skin
    of the horizons you’d once pondered, an elegy
    for the desires you’d once nursed. You memorise
    names but let go of faces, allowing cadence
    to submerge the legacy of memory in myth.

    Freedom is a second skin.

    If you’re a lover, you cherish it and curse it with equal
    feeling. You treasure it for yourself, you choke it in
    the other. You drape it around the one you love—
    sometimes as a veil, sometimes as a noose. At times
    you weave it into the silent folds of drapery, hoping that
    that which you set free, will someday learn to find
    its way home. You elicit it from the sighs and whispers
    that punctuate your nights, aware that blood has a certain
    cadence, typography its own. You deem it illicit, on the
    odd misguided occasion, as words turn to sentences,
    sentences turn to letters, and letters end up being framed
    within the nautical charisma of depth. If you’re a lover,
    you think of freedom as a refugee thinks of bread and
    an exile thinks of rain—as something meant to drop
    from heaven, as the first line of the chorus in the
    blessing to which you’ll never be denied.

    Freedom is a second skin.

    If you’re a traveller, you pursue its true desires through
    the waves that come colliding against the language
    of your flesh. You search for home in the longitudes
    of loss and the currencies of love. You scavenge who
    you are—birth, history, name, age, geography, address,
    ethnicity—in the folds of maritime fables and the diaries
    left behind by marauding storms. You dance with
    questions in the darkness, questions like “Who am I?”
    and “When will the rush erupt?” and “What answers
    do I seek when I seek them in the dark?” You chase
    after the lines that crisscross the earth, hoping that soil
    and ether might hold an answer or two. You dance
    the yearn into dawn, thinking that the blaze might
    help shine a light. Eventually, you set a course again,
    placing your faith in the shapes on your palm
    and the inevitability of incremental tides.

    Freedom is a second skin.

    You’ll wear many skins, over the course of a life.
    You’ll shed just as many, over the course of tonight.
    Some you’ll borrow from the lovers you call home.
    Others you’ll assume from country and nationhood,
    the deltas and tributaries of your motherland spewing
    histories and archival commentary into the curvature
    of your veins and bones. Still others you’ll find in
    the implosions of a world in flux, each and every
    human wearing the tag of evacuee after all. Some will
    lead you into the arms of hope, some will tango you
    into the arms of fame. And you’ll tread these lands,
    knowing once all is said and done, identity is as
    fickle as a love letter sent out into the wind.
    And you’ll tread these waters, knowing that identity
    isn’t a real thing, apart from perhaps being an
    accumulation of all these first skins.

    And you’ll be fine,
    having known even this much.

    2. Private Longitudes

    Last week, a storm ripped through unknown pleasures in arid California
    This morning, a memory ran amok through the refuges within my heart

    In 1947, this land was partitioned in the glistening lingua of akin blood
    I’m seven; I split my knee on a ground fragmented by flecks of white

    France carries out nuclear explosions, somewhere in a Polynesian dream
    Years later, a radiation machine pounds my skull with illustrative clarity

    Someone unearths a statue of the Buddha, buried within the earth’s howl
    At possibly the same time, I wear a maroon robe, gently disavowed

    A magnitude of 7.6 inflicts the currencies of the naïve Andaman Sea
    On an August Istanbul night, I release the gorgeous ache into lost ether

    That summer, the politicians learned to choreograph nature’s denials
    Three springs removed; I conjure bedroom eyes for a beautiful goodbye

    Catalonia has split from Spain, all this morning’s headlines scream
    An hour past dusk, the last of the gulmohar betroth themselves to mud

    Venice shall drown unto its sorrows, you’d divulged once in stillness
    I immediately mapped out degrees and the circadian lull of frequencies

    In the winter of ’73, Pablo Neruda disappeared unto everyday mist
    Exactly thirty years later, I begin to sketch my first canvasses of verse

    All this parallel flood, as the cosmos consumed an imperceptible thirst
    Why didn’t anyone bother telling me, that a butterfly’s wings had stirred?

    3. You Haven’t

    Soil writes everything down; it uses dirt,
    the slaked faithfulness of water mixed with wet earth,
    grains, pebbles, and a few forgotten remnants left
    behind by the past. It passes these words on to roots,
    who take them in via the umbilical truth of child receding womb,
    memorising each word through the secular profusion of
    twigs, stems, leaves, and wood. A century or so later,
    the words, having grown up to become sentences, stanzas, parables,
    epics, give themselves to the freedom of evaporation, rising on the
    illicit pleasures of the wind and the fluttering emancipation
    of gathered clouds, bathing the land in that which was nearly
    buried beneath the brusque hand of rule: of how orange tried to flood
    our rivers and our homes, once upon a time; of how its crescendo
    of odium and frenzy tried to swallow the songbird’s lament,
    woven from diversified notes; of how its putrid breath tried to
    demolish the pages of history, line by sacred line. A century or so later,
    the words, having grown up to become sentences, stanzas, parables,
    epics, give themselves to the freedom of evaporation, rising on the
    illicit pleasures of the wind and the fluttering emancipation
    of gathered clouds, bathing the land in that which was saved
    by the wet fortitude of braver tongues: of how mahogany and
    mahua came together to form barricades; of how tiger lilies,
    lotuses, delilah, and temple magnolia dissolved previous sins
    in the riparian tides of rise and roar; of how heirlooms and artefacts
    and the insistent pull of photographic memory resuscitated breath
    and blood into the streaming canals of previously deceased lungs.

    A century or so later, the words will gather as proof of what
    soil had once sowed. So if you think you’ve gotten away with it,
    you haven’t.

    This poem is part of Siddharth Dasgupta’s fourth book—A Moveable East (Red River), published in 2021. The poem first appeared in The Punch.

    Siddharth Dasgupta writes poetry and fiction from lost hometowns and cities inflicted with an existential throb. His fourth book—A Moveable East—has arrived in March ’21 via the independent publisher Red River. Siddharth’s literature has appeared in Epiphany, Lunch Ticket, The Bosphorus Review, The Aleph Review, Kyoto Journal, nether Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in the city of Poona, where he is currently finessing a novel mired in the act of memory, while trying to corral a few rowdy poems into collections.

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