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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