Father Helpless and Other Poems

By Ankush Banerjee

1 – Father Helpless
(Ogu & me)

0330 am. Vocal cord the size of
Eiffel crash. My ears. I
stuff my mouth
with a hand-grenade’s
worth of silence
before a hopeless soldier,
now surrounded, pulls the pin.
Somewhere in diaper-city, a war rages.
Trenches overflow with effluents.
Moonlight cuts us into thin
silver fugues heard
in empty amphitheatres. We echo
so shrill, I swear I thought I heard you.
Now a days, I can’t hear you. I try. The
chasm between banality and grandiosity
is so small, no Feeding Pillow can sleep over it.
Empty bottles, nipples, Feeding Spoon nestle
in the Steriliser’s womb I forgot to turn on. For a brief
moment, there is stillness so white, I thought
I am in a cloud, free-falling into your throat
to embrace vocal cord sketched
in an arc of innocence. Mutual helplessness
and learning is the name of this game. Love was never
really the deficit. Sleep was. Is.

2 – Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi
(for Anisha)

There is no estimating,
how time and space
transmutes a lover.

So forgive those fish-market shanties
wearing concrete like a truism. The traffic,
and its delirious swell, like a whale’s lungs,
every day at 9 am.

Don’t begrudge the new traffic signal its ornamental impotence.

It’s okay
for new bungalows
to be coloured beige, mauve, fuchsia,
and neat ground-floor parking lots
replacing bougainvillea trees – where
a boy and a girl,
forever twelve and six,
negotiate the dwelling place
of an earthworm they saved
Forgive those streets,
for shrinking
like grandmothers
under the weight
of newer, bigger, shinier cars.

You see, it is only after you learn to unlove
that homecoming becomes
a matter of perpetual return,

the way afternoon chiming
of the kulfiwallah’s bells, the smell
of dhunochi, the taste of jamun
brings you closer to
something stuck in your throat
the night before, in a train

hurtling towards this dwelling place,
that was almost yours –
until you disembark
at the Delhi station.

Ankush Banerjee (he/his), poet, Culture Studies PhD research scholar and serving Naval Officer, is the author of An Essence of Eternity (2016). He has been recipient of the 2019 All India Poetry Prize, as well as the United Services Institution of India Gold Medals in 2013, 2017 and 2022, for his essays on Military Ethics and Leadership. His poetry, reviews and essays appear in Eclectica, Cha, The Bombay Literary Magazine, The Tupelo Quarterly, Kitaab and The Indian Express, among others. His work has also appeared in the anthologies, Yearbook of Indian Poetry 2020 and 2021, Best of Asian Poetry 2021, and Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians. He is currently stationed at New Delhi.

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