Nandini Dhar’s poems have appeared or is forthcoming in Muse India, Kritya and Sheher:Urban Poetry by Indian Women. Nandini grew up in Kolkata, India, finished her M.A. In Comparative Literature from University of Oregon, and is now a Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature at University of Texas at Austin.
inking the hyacinth
knowing how to make
the rosemary smell
like thyme is not enough.
her brother told her. with a touch on her forehead,
which, he thought, would reassure her. if she really
wants to be the kabiyali she thinks she is, she must
learn how to make pearls from inside her spleen.
and that, he said,
amongst other things.
not yet ready to give up, she spent days
sorting through spine splintering brick.
looking for the right kind of dust.
holding the specks
against the sun with
her three fingers.
the other two craving for shades of green
she had never hoped to touch. then, once
she had them all, she swallowed the dust
drops. one by one. every one of them. not
noticing that her forehead now bears five
glowing blue spots.
exactly on the places where
her brother’s fingers touched her
probably because, she wasn’t feeling anything there.
almost in the same way the leprosy skin fails to notice
of a pin
in the bread-colored desolation of a machete moon,
she had to admit that her brother did not want her
to pull out her eyes one after the other and serve them
to him in crystal jars.
marinated in lemon juice, rock
salt and cinnamon flakes. neither
does he want her to spend the day
sweeping speckless the ground under the guava tree
but, being just back from turning an oyster princess
into a porcelain-doll, he believes his assurances can
turn all silhouettes into full-blown
statuettes. she, on the other hand,
would rather scratch the oyster-shells
hard and let the blood dry under her broken nails.
blood, when allowed to harbor chaos on its own, can
become a bladed verb which will pierce a bone right
in two. yet, eager to regale in his desperate certitude,
she gave up the bristles,
bones and the blades.
for thirteen years, three months and three days, she made
the hyacinth leaf her bed. fed on air. and woke up every
morning to throw up spit the color of deep brown earth
and sunlit scar tissue. which she would then use to sculpt
rabbits, deer, sparrows and hedge-hogs.
and once she crawled back
into her hyacinth bed, her brother
would break them all. one by one
too ordinary, he would say, with an expert frown. the morning
she spat the pearl out, her brother held her head, picked up
the pearl stone, and after looking at it for two whole minutes
through purple tinted field glass, said, sissy dear, you are yet to learn
the art of madness wild. it was then that she smashed
the pearl on the rock. collected pieces
too pink. and wrapped them up in
her rainbow-skinned scarf, walking off
towards her hyacinth-shield. needless to say, no one
saw her ever again. Nothing much happened to her
brother either. only the white hyacinth flowers, in
the lake, turned fluorescent violet. and on full-moon
nights, they bleed red. routinely. ritually. without fail.
irreconcilable:lines for virginia mem-sahib
My aunt, Mary Beton, I must tell you, died by a fall from her horse when she was riding out to take the air in Bombay. […] A solicitor’s letter fell into the post-box and when I opened it I found that she had left me five hundred pounds a year for ever.
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
when abhinavagupta, shudrak, and rumi were forced to sit
tight-packed on a single shelf, leaving the rest of the world to alphabets
that jumped out of ships and judge-sahib’s wigs, textbooks have perfected
the art of making crazed scribbling-chicks look tame.
tame enough to be tapestried into buttercream muslin pillow cases
tame enough to be painted on jasmine-white schoolroom walls
tame enough to be talked about without once referring
to that conch-shaped nose of yours
the look in your eyes, which says,
i am perfectly capable of drenching myself
in the purple-blue of a drizzly-day sun, claiming, the sun
belongs to me and only to me, and can,therefore,
be swept away, into the abyss of my purse,
just like the peacock-feather of my hat.
my tongue was daffodil-bruised.
the little man made me peel oranges
for eight hours every day, my ass on wood,
the tip of his beard brushing off the last traces
of elizabeth, mary, all those poet-girls who walked straight
into the smoke-filled coffeehouses, corsets tightly folded into eight
in their armpits.
hell,i didn’t know that even sammy dear
had waved off the sugar-bowl with the back of his left hand while pouring
out a full dose of white guilt in the wings of albatross
so, i held on to your lonely sun. although,
for my own sake,i would have rather opened my lips,
tongue,limbs and nipples to the storm. yet, there are days,
when i craved for a share of your sun, with bleeding fingernails
you were running,
your skirt hitched up to your knees,
from the very old man
with scissors for clipping the wings of women
who build abodes other than the ones thrust upon them
by holy matrimony.
i was running right beside you,
trying to figure out the color of the thread of your hems.
i would have given anything for them to be the shade
of clotted blood, rust, deep-fried, well-breaded mutton cutlet.
and there was mary beton.
bombay.the horse. the fall.
five hundred pounds a year. a room ensured.
damn it, girl, i couldn’t care less
for your aunt beton or her fall. but I did care
for the five hundred pounds, which, had they
stayed behind, could have been used to build
my own room. Or, for that matter,
one for my sister
one for my cousin
one for my aunt
one for my mother
one each for my father, brother and uncle.
ginny dearest, i don’t trust you
with the carving of my wood.
for all practical purposes, you’re just