Volume 4 Issue 2, June 2020
Special Issue for Indian Poetry

Rochelle Potkar

The Malabar House

 

Silence runs in yards

through each of its forty-seven doors,

spilling through foliage, gathering in

the oyster nook, armpit of mud

that this house nests in

in strange peace and calm

that is

CPR for a city dweller,

but that smothers the lady of the house.

 

In a tulsi pot sits a fat haiku bullfrog,

paralysed.

And away from the step well and duck

pond, a mango tree was axed years ago so

it didn’t dent the roof,

but it has left a gap

like a stencilled bookmark

in the page of the sky.

 

Made of jackfruit tree wood,

this house has so much of it,

it could have been a tree

 

or a loom

with each person in it, a thread.

 

Like the man of the house who doesn’t talk

or believe in tomorrow,

 

The woman sniffles before laughing and

smiles too much.

And the new bride who looks like a mother of

three and scissor-gazes the fabrics of air around

when she hears silence instead of praise.

 

Windows spin forever lights

in expectations specified, verified,

yet kept unfulfilled

in firm tilts of ideologies

as spine-d as the bark of a male tamarind tree.

 

The house has no boundary wall.

That is its security.

That anyone can see an unknown person

enter the village - the factory of gossip,

 

intersticed with kingfisher flights,

moos from never-ending cows,

quivers of guinea fowls, fights of geese,

and long legged beetle-nut trees

standing heretically in the light of the sun.

 

The smell of curry leaves sputter in coconut oil

all through the day –

that are later roasted and ground between the

tongues spiced by this older woman as if battling

 

to return beauty to a place

 

from where good words start

and prayers end.

 

Something that her man has forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

Sick Bed

 

Not remembering sleep or the winter of her

skin she dozes and wakes, taking away your

burning with the single-most thought of

salt-water towels on your back and

forehead like a long distance map laid out

 

of a hypnotic train travel.

 

You lucidly remember, an ancient time

machine from a comic book, a video game,

swallowing the bitter pill of a full moon,

the weight of prickly-heat stars, swollen universes,

summer falling and rising through your body.

 

Brewing sweat,

you both are crossing the river of the night the

slow boiling of time through her torn eyes,

peeling away the mercury of your ochre skin.

 

The morning melts on its faint blue ledge

as she pushes a sunrise-egg down her

throat so she can go on for day 2

of a mother’s marathon against a viral,

 

as you inhale stale eau-de-cologne off your

shirt, in the bird cage of your frail body.

 

 

 

 

Queen of Dark

 

You don’t understand you light whore! The power of

the star is in the dark.

The womb clustering genes, the dance of the flower is

in the dark.

 

Senses sharpen not just sight: wisdom, freedom, liberation.

Shadows unfurl in others languages in the dark.

 

Body, age, ambition, dreams, histories re-unite,

Ruining the future, visiting the past in the dark.

 

You drink the light, soot-burned.

. . . I too once had iridescent spectrum-fantasies.

 

But the dark is so vast, it opened its arms

and thighs, calling me into its womb, up its tubes.

 

‘The light is too little,’ it said, ‘Outlined in an eye-

flame, spotlight, sun,

the night always comes before the next dawn.”

 

In this zone of stark,

3 am, 4 am memories reign,

rain,

drenching anonymity.

 

You will always find the real light in the dark.

 

 

 

 

Swing

 

The evening slips on a totem pole of silent bird song,

fragments breaking from epiphany as the hour swells.

 

The world, a ripening fruit pelting through

windows, utensils in the kitchen, householders

returning like spent machine guns from battle.

 

The day turns dense with the pre-cum of dark,

crank calls, doorbells, grocery deliveries, futile negotiations,

 

dimmer from inside conversations.

 

The sun soiling the sky with a morphing

moon, the artery becoming a vein drying into

a capillary.

 

Like love, memory plays a game.

Denied pathways are pushed further back.

 

Something is taken away

     – an old key from a discarded lock, perhaps.

 

Thoughts run amok in Babel tongues:

world news, reviews, reality TV,

canned laughter, recorded claps,

file photos, scripted retorts,

 

glycerined eyes

to keep the world afloat

and from wilting

on the ebb of its own sea bed,

 

breaking another day into sediments

of a shrill alarm clock.

 

 

 

 

About the poet

An alumna of Iowa’s International Writing Program (2015), and Charles Wallace Writer’s fellowship (2017), Rochelle Potkar is the author of The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories, Four Degrees of Separation, Paper Asylum. Her poems The Girl from Lal Bazaar was shortlisted for the Gregory O' Donoghue International Poetry Prize, 2018; Place won an honorable mention at Asian Cha’s Auditory Cortex; Skirt was made into a poetry film by Philippa Collie Cousins for the Visible Poetry Project; To Daraza won the 2018 Norton Girault Literary Prize in poetry; War Specials won 1st Runner up at The Great Indian Poetry Contest 2018; Amber won a place in Hongkong's Proverse Poetry Prize 2018 Anthology. Winner of the 2016 Open Road Review contest for The Leaves of the Deodar, her story Chit Mahal (The Enclave) appeared in The Best of Asian Short Stories, Kitaab International. Rochelle has read her poetry in India, Bali, Iowa, Stirling, Glasgow, Hongkong, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Gold Coast. Her reviews have appeared in Wasafiri, Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature, Asian Cha, and Chandrabhaga. Website: https://rochellepotkar.com.

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Published by The Alternative.