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Sonali Pattnaik







my legs are legacies

of uncaged birds

birds that broke free

always getting away

from me

my heart is a solitary

fruit laden tree

the sun is a lamp

I light at daybreak

and the starry skies

songs of separation

nightly, I weave

some folks frown

when they hear me claim

what is their god’s work

as mine; you are not

everything, they chime

and what if everything is me?

the leaving birds

the ever-dying tree

the sun closing in upon earth

the starless canopy

is indeed all our doing

the fire and the kiln

of our beginnings

and our end?

and what if all the beauty

and the gloom were

the thread and the loom

of your being;

you, woven and tangled

in its weft and warp,

making and unmaking

with your every silence,

your every act?

how would you stitch your heart

how would you free your winged legs

how would you light your lamp

how would you hold the burning

of the stars?

it is almost dusk; the purple

of the sky is the tea I pour

into my teapot.

I write a storm of grief

you are in disbelief

as the waters rise

the tsunami is the water

rolling down our backs

before we dig our graves any further

will we not claim

our beauty and our misdeed?

are we not indeed everything?

these arms

stars will be caught

in the width of these arms


and yet for you they shrunk

and now that I walk away

my arms they grow,

they unfold again

there is no dread, none at all

of what splendour or fire will

into their capacious expanse

once again, fall

“untimely ripped”

if you are walking away with a womb

no one asks if you are a thief

I have been one all my life

pregnant with another mind

unborn desires kicking into life

it is a badge of honour

that I carry on the inside

you must watch me closely

the next time–I’ve been sly.

It’s not the iron trunk

strapped and locked,

labelled ‘man-made’

this thing that I am growing

un-mothered organism bestride

sorrel pouch, ebbing

with the blaze of memories

fed by a timeless umbilical cord

attached to the centre of revolution

endless, swift and full

feeds the might infant

it speaks before it sees the light of day

frightening those who dare peep inside

it will collect the broken shards

of a biological anti-clock

“untimely ripped”,

from a stolen womb

born before its time

she knows, the ghostly mid-wife

she holds a pen and a palette knife

it’s time we delivered

and lay down the booty, she says,

and tell of how we ransacked the world

one theft at a time and flew

with the phantasmogoric newborn

nurtured in sibylline surrogacy

well-fed on freedom’s milk

strapped to our collective chests,

leaving broken structures behind

About the Poet

Dr. Sonali Pattnaik is an award-winning poet, a well-published academician, and visual artist from India who has a PhD and MPhil in English Literature. Her debut book of poetry when the flowers begin to speak (Writers Workshop) has been described as “a milestone in Indian feminist poetry” and featured in the prestigious Journal of Commonwealth Literature. Her art and poetry have appeared in several international journals including, The Hong Kong Review, Fem Asia, Setu, The Bombay Review and Muse India, and anthologised in print. An alumna and former Lecturer in English of Delhi University, she has taught literature to students of Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarat Universities for over twenty years and currently serves as External Expert, Board of Studies, St. Xavier’s college Ahmedabad, among other academic roles. She has long been an advocate of a gender-just society and has consistently worked towards this vision in her writing, teaching, activism and university administrative posts.

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