Poetry at Sangam



ETYMOLOGY by Nabina Das

These are rainy days stories, they sat on their hunches
Once our dinner was done of lentils and fried brinjals

My uncle’s home had lanterns even then, lit every night
The kerosene smell rolling over our nostrils, pungent
When the lady-not-of-the house lifted the glass chimney

We traded tongue-shows with lax wall shadows to see
Who goes first naming the queen that loved a blue god
Whose husband brought her a poison cup, the jealous freak!

Outside, the river Bhorolu streamed her sickly frame
We obelisked our impatient questions: tell me, tell me
And grandmother’s bed grew weedy with our clamber

That’s when I learned that before my grandfather’s father
His grandfather and father, a few more fathers give or take
This whole clan – not so much the women – were thugs
In their turbans in the daytime, creeping to kill at night
Men, wearing the night, with tall pirouetting bamboo sticks
Slicing the light and breath of another body for silver-gold

The thugs were singers too, wooed dirges, drunken
Songs, sometimes lamented their own martial fate
While their wives gave birth to poetry in lantern light, soft
Thudding bodies they hugged within lush loose bodices
Oiled in neem. It’s lucky that poetry took across borders
The blacklisted clan. Journeymen made sane by women
Of unveiled heads who tongued them tried new names.