The Woman & Other Poems

by Zinia Mitra

The Woman

I waited for the poem to come to me
in my hometown, in my house
where once stood a banyan tree
that had sheltered my forefathers
and now my memory.
I wait in my decrepit house
in my dreams big and bright
and in the house came so many deaths
paper wrapped tuberoses
make shift bamboo beds.
Only I am left untouched
dressed in white
for the ritual
and the poem.

Ganga calls me.
In the daytime when I stand on the terrace
I can hear her.
Sometimes in between the rituals
if I miss a mantra
or hold my breath the wrong way.

Ganga calls me.
During the night between my drumbeat pangs
I can hear her call my name,
her voice lapping the whiteness of my saree.

Ganga called them all
one by one.
I pour oil into the earthen lamp
immerse the wick.
It is easier to talk to the goddess in the dark.
They all did.
I had entered the temple by mistake
where my father-in-law
was offering oblations.
He took me up as an oblation.
That is how I know.


The Wind

Here the gentle breeze
ever so often gets stronger.
It blows in from the past
carrying loud unstylized yelling of the dead.

Skeletons crossing the Mahananda Bridge
make a rattling noise as they move
and the winged sun overhead that casts no shadows
burns them alive.

Strong winds blow from time to time
across my charred days, bare nights, superfluous hours.
It blows through my empty dreams
and all earthly fulfillment.

Like it carries cotton flowers, young dreams and ash
it carries me over to you.

It blows through my bones.
and yet makes no music.


The Cloud

We can halt only at the haltstations.
Whenever you and I go out for a walk it rains.
A jumble of half formed- thoughts beyond
the hanging bridge
look for shelter.

There is a coffee shop close by
frequented by travelers like you
who travelled the world never in the realms of gold
but always carrying the heaviness of lead
witnessed hunger and riot and death
for reasons such as food habits and god
both of which you never understand.
Food is that which fills a hungry stomach
and gods never drink blood you say.
You never understand the world’s ways, of gods
who sit at road corners vermillion – smeared, of gods
who lurk in the fear and the dark desires of men
asking money for blessings and sometimes sacrifices.
God is like the river, you say
and drink deep into my eyes.
God is fulfillment, you say,
and food is that which fills an empty stomach.

I look at the trees rejoicing the rain
every leaf turning greener
the earth soaking in every drop
quivers like a delicate maiden.
I cross the bridge with you and walk into
the coffee shop. The clouds
of my mind rain into the river.

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