mercredi 5 février 2020

Hind Motor to Howrah

First, a cycle rickshaw through narrow streets, lined with muddy marigolds for sale.  The railway ticket counter is a wooden shack roofed with tin, there is sabzi in neat piles in the stalls nearby.  The air smells faintly of mustard oil. This neighbourhood was once home to the factory and the workers that built the famous yellow cabs of Calcutta, Hindustan Motors.  Now Hind Motor is a station on the local train, inhabited by immigrants whose families are from UP, Bihar, and Bangladesh.  Seven rupees for a ticket to Howrah, the busiest station in the country.  Five o'clock in the evening, sunlight fading into a rose-colored glow as I climb into the ladies' compartment.  Bengali women look at me through large eyes, thickly lined with kajal.  Polyester shawls thrown about their shoulders, they turn towards one another and resume conversations.  A cold wind enters the train through open doors, and smen jump on and off selling chai, biscuits, back scratchers, and obscure powders made of pomegranate seeds and bitter amla.  We pull in to Howrah station at rush hour.  It's almost impossible to exit the train because of all the people swarming into it suddenly, though it's barely come to a stop.  I push my way through with my belongings, using my duffel bag to create a space in the crowd I can jump through.  There's no time to look for the exit as I am swept into the amorphous mass of human beings; coolies balancing heavy trunks on their heads, farmers heaving burlap sacks, women carrying babies, men dragging suitcases and wives. 

Someone's backpack presses into my stomach, an arm pushes against mine, a boot shifts my own foot forward into a step.  It's difficult to breathe because of the constant pressure of other bodies from every angle, and it seems like any breath I take is simply because of an object or person pressing my lungs open or closed, like a bellows.  I'm a puppet of the crowd, it's impossible to turn around or even see where I am-- we are-- going. Identity dissolves and I'm the bead of sweat behind the coolie's ear as his emaciated frame, all sinews, balances steel containers on the crown of his head.  There's a certain kind of walk someone has when they've carried a heavy load all their life, a subtle way of holding weight in the hips and bowing the legs.  Such balance, as the crowd jostles him indiscriminately; yet if that great load upon his head would tip over, it could split someone's eyebrow open.  We flow together towards a place of less density, more like molecules than people.  At last, an exit in the underpass.  The crowd thins enough for each of us to decide when and how to take a step, then how fast to walk, each at our own pace again.  I can see the coolies gain momentum, never rushing but always moving forward, and in a few moments they're far ahead of me and I'm left struggling with my pathetic bag, infinitely lighter than the loads they carry.  There's a horizon now that wasn't there before, a vanishing point beyond the well-oiled scalps of the people immediately in front of us, or the brief glimpse of a bag strap cutting into the pleats of a floral pallu.  We climb the steps upwards, towards the light, and emerge into a labyrinthine bus stand. Howrah bridge stands in the distance, bathed in an orange sunset.  It is lined with the silhouettes of coolies creeping ever forward, with the strength of ants carrying sustenance that's exponentially heavier than their own bodies-- without which the city would cease to exist.  

samedi 30 janvier 2016

Blue hour

Please, no more sighing eyes-- instead
let’s run away to Rajasthan, imagine:
dusty candy-bar wrappers smearing sand.

There, stones bleed colors seeping skin
--will we forget ourselves by morning?
whirling just enough, smog-steeped
snakebite throbbing on your neck &
imagine: it’s my venom.

How long do we have left? After
sunrise splits our bones to feed its fire,
will you still trust me?

A mouth-moving voiceless reply, another
fading desert dance-partner I thought
could be you-- my Sheherezade, ours
before abandoned dawn sneaks across
a single grey hair, light-singed pink.

And your hands find my breast, coax out poems, 
until the world wakes & we pretend not to know each other, 

except on mountains,

and motorcycles.  

mercredi 1 avril 2015


Some people say the universe is expanding.  Some people say that its breathing, stuck somewhere in the lungs of infinite space. 

“You’re looking older,” says someone else, sitting on the floor forgetting who you are. “I remember when…”

And are we really that much older, after a few more eyelashes flutter open and shut? What happened to that breath we were born with?

dimanche 29 mars 2015


  It’s getting harder to remember the feeling of sunlight on skin, motorcycle breezing up a dusty hill, past a shuddering bus and a woman selling neera already gone with the afternoon.  Here, the sun is cold and grey and the motorcycles are so polished, no kicking pieces trying to escape in the wind.  No seashell cemeteries where wild peacocks shed their feathers one by one, no frothy sugarcane juice by the side of the road.   Just the low-resolution memories humming around an empty mind, a foreign language crippling what there is to be said, is there anything to be said after dark?  The sun’s setting later and later, but what good does that do us if it’s cloudy all day?  And in the arms of someone else, a yet-unknown loneliness—in between love’s ribs, there’s empty space expanding, devouring the rest.  Where do we go from here?  Papers to grade, papers to write, and what good are they without the hands that write them?  Nobody here has hands anymore. Machines selling coffee, washing dishes, renting cars, making tables and chairs to furnish the void.  The threads attached to my remaining ribs pull incessantly towards him.  He once told me it was nine thousand kilometers, but to me it’s nine hours in a closed airplane flying over countries I’ve never visited next to people I’m not sure I want to meet.  So until something snaps—either the threads or my ribcage— I’ll try to imagine Sisyphus happy, carrying furniture up the stairs until his wrists give way, eating breakfast in the morning like almost everyone else.