Thursday, January 30, 2014

HOUSE by Sumana Roy



My love,
my love is my forehead
on which you scatter grains
for pigeons every morning.
My smile is a courtyard,
my reclining shadow a cowshed,
my scalp the moon-skin’s song,
my throat an old mossy well,
my hands a windmill that crush scented air,
my ears the mauve flower
that begins to hear with the day,
my legs, my legs a canal
that bring the flow of anklets your way,
my mouth a betel leaf you fold and chew for taste,
my eyes a post box you steal letters from,
and my eyebrows – my eyebrows
a ladder you climb to pluck sleep
I was your house without a roof.
The birds saw me
shaping my nails every evening.
They dropped thin moons
on my lake-like nails.
You called them woks
and fried my smiles in them.
They smelled good – the smiles,
as they shrivelled
in scalding oil.
I wanted to smile
but was scared to show you
the one spare smile
I’d saved in the cow’s udder.
My nails were flags that I put out
to flutter and scratch the wind.
My bindi was a cowdung cake
slapped against your back.
I dried in the sun,
your finger marks stabbed and wrinkled
and grew old with me.
Sunlight was superstition.
I’d wither and weather
if you touched me
in the light, you said.
So darkness.
Its grassy smell,
its guilty moistness,
its uncertain sagging skin,
its tropical climate,
its humid love,
its sticky inconsequentiality.
Darkness.
You hid me in it,
like a dog does his bone.
My body became your family.
My shadow, changing
to the mood of your tongue,
your mohalla.
You spat betel leaf juice on my walls.
I bled.
And as the evening wringed the sky of light,
darkness seeped into my hinges.
Doors and windows.
Mouth and burrow.
You lit a kerosene lamp at my feet.
Fire grew to smoke,
water bubbled to a murmur,
tapped my lid,
I burst open.
The wick burned all night.
It sucked oil,
it smoked,
it smudged new glass.
It grew thin.
I was a log of wood.
I was kitchen.
I was clay oven.
I was coal.
I was roti –
dough pressed between your fingers
and flattened to smoothness.
I was roti,
breakfast and dinner,
I was roti,
swelling up with heat,
I was roti,
caught between your teeth.
I was so many other things besides:
Cup and plate, jug and glass, lock and key,
all pairs that hold a house in embrace.
My clay body,
drying with the wind,
melting in the rain;
you plastered clay on clay,
everyday,
until only outside was my all,
and my inside was only a bamboo,
an axis around which men
left behind tattoos of their slaps.
All men are, in the end, only masons.
There were cowries on my skin,
half slit open. One eyed cowries
as if in a permanent wink.
I was a pagoda of fireflies,
I glowed in the light.
No one noticed me burn.
I was perfect, you said.
Only I had no hair on my head.
Yet you brought flowers for me
to wear in my hair.
For flowers made your dream woman –
a farmer’s wife.
Yellow mustard flowers,
sharp to the nose, ambitious,
a future granary;
Sthalapadma, lotuses of the land,
lotuses without sharp spouts;
You climbed trees for me,
from there you told me stories of the sea.
You saw what I couldn’t see –
you saw water, I saw distance.
For space was an alphabet
you hadn’t cared to learn.
You hung marigolds from walls.
I didn’t care for ceilings.
You didn’t want height.
Hair was false height, you said.
You were looking for depth.
You dug for wells.
You dug for ponds.
You wanted fish.
You wanted rod.
I was only a house.
How could I move?
I waited, I watched.
You held it like a curse.
You held it like a rope.
You held it like water.
You held it like hope.
The nose! The nose?
And the nose is all you missed?
You said you were looking for oars,
for sail, for mast, for air;
The nose is a ship?
The nose ring’s only a loop
that brings the cows home.
We had none, not cows,
not fragments of footprints
to sew on to our new history.
Why ships then? Why homecoming?
Why the quiet doodles of nose rings?
Why bird-bites on wood-carvings?
Why half-circles of summer foam?
Nose ring was a world with a pinch,
you said; it was the world’s boundary.
Life’s frame – round with a leak,
allowing death a peek.
You treated it, at first, like a fishing hook,
You wanted me to bite,
Then you wanted it to bite me.
You thought it was a waistband
you’d tie around your world,
You thought it was a snake
that would bite its own tail.
I was only a house.
You punctured my earlobes with it.
Buttermilk accusations ran like pus.
You gathered folds of skin with it.
The nose ring became pincers.
You sewed my blouse ends with it.
The nose ring became a door latch.
You pushed our fingers inside it.
The nose ring became our love’s wallet.
It became all you wanted it to be.
But you wanted more.
You were a man.
I was only a house.
And so you brought stone,
You brought hammer,
You’d tired of roundness, you said.
You hit it hard, you hit it strong,
The circle fumbled, then crawled,
It wanted its shape back.
You hit it hard again.
It became snail,
It became earthworm,
And then a match stick that wouldn’t light.
Even anthill bricks are round,
You sometimes say,
And earrings and bangles,
And necklace and rings,
Only roundness suits a woman,
Men wouldn’t have it any other way.
The world is a woman, and so the moon,
The plough is a woman, and so are stories.
You rolled the nose ring on my skin,
It became wheels and crushed me.
It became a ball at your feet.
You were a man,
Your feet found joy in roundness.
And I still wanted you.
What good is a house without snores?
All you wanted was my left,
My room and a wall –
The nose ring was a clothesline
You wanted to hang babies from.
But you loved its purdah the best:
Such neat divisions, you said,
A mucus-dark andar mahal,
locked from inside with a half-bitten key;
the man’s world, like land,
hanging, sloth-like, for all to see …
A nose ring was a mirror
that held the future of faith,
A nose ring was a summer day,
only a winter comforting thought.
You said such things and pierced my skin,
A nail on my wall, a crumbling chandelier within …
You are a man.
I’m only a house.

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