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Posts from the ‘Poetry’ Category

Kitchens Through Which I Have Traveled

Mehnaz Sahibzada

Image credit: the author

The beige one in Pasadena where my

baby sister swallowed a flask of medicine,

 

the oak one on Friar where I spoke Urdu

and learned my first Bollywood songs,

 

the dank one in Gulberg where Chaudry Saab

blamed us kiddos for burning the biryani,

 

the haunted one in a crumbling haveli,

where I mistook my Dadi for a ghost,

 

the cube one in Taif where I fried peas

with cumin & ghee, listening to Arabic television,

 

the humid one in Tampa where we baked

a birthday cake for my toy donkey,

 

the white one in Rancho Cucamonga where

I prank-called pizza joints with friends,

 

the pink one in Encino where my father’s pleas

stabbed a Scorpion perched on Spanish tile,

 

the bright one on Miranda where my mother

entertained a mountain, budding like a silverbell,

 

the dormitory one in Tucson where I boiled

packets of noodle soup between classes,

 

the brown one in my first college rental

where I crammed quesadillas & basic Russian,

 

the artsy one with blue tile where a shadow

lurked near the courtyard like a predatory moon,

 

and too many fiddlings to forget:    the time

I rolled mounds of dough with a friend who

 

traveled on Fullbright to Tunisia where he

adopted a girl, cooked my first Thanksgiving

 

into a seance, learned recipes for the curries

I stirred blocks from the Pacific, painted a

 

bookshelf yellow and green, baked lavender

cupcakes the day before my kitchen buzzed

 

into a swarm of bees, wrote poems about

snow, called psychics for life advice, learned the art

 

of saying little & the risks of saying too much.

Stewings where I drank bottles of cheap red

 

wine until I stopped uncorking bottles altogether,

moving into a home where the refrigerator

 

seems familiar and where the kitchen greets

me humming, I will love you warmly, like

 

a stove.    All it wants in return is to be touched by

the hands of someone who can stir a pot of

 

vegetables, who can trust the spices to do

their work, since they have traveled so far.

Mehnaz Sahibzada was born in Pakistan and raised in Los Angeles. She is a 2009 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow in Poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, such as Liminality, Moira, The Literary Hatchet, Desilit, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Pedestal Magazine and Strange Horizons. Her first full-length collection, My Gothic Romance, was published in April 2019 by Finishing Line Press. A high school English teacher, she lives in southern California. To learn more about Mehnaz, visit her at www.poetmehnaz.com

The last announcement in the metro before it was closed down

Harsh Anand

 

Owing to the pandemic,

we will be suspending our services

indefinitely.

We urge all of you

to look outside the windows

for the rest of your journey

before you forget what your

city looks like.

Our last train

will be extended to midnight,

for those who have forgotten

their hearts elsewhere.

Couples who have to

part ways can

take platform two

to say their goodbyes.

The staff is requested

to collect all the apologies

scattered in coach five

and pile them neatly on the seats

so they can also feel

the burden of our weight,

if only for a night.

To acknowledge the abundance

of words we will have

to pull out of our throats,

in the coming weeks,

we will turn off the automated

messages but

write them on the floors instead,

besides the footprints

and replace the batteries

in all the clocks.

Our lost and found

has a single slipper, a pack of smokes

and a crumbled, almost illegible letter.

We will be holding on to them

like they are our own

Harsh Anand is a 24-year-old aspiring poet from New Delhi, India. He believes writing poetry is the one thing he knows best and is constantly looking for ways to improve both himself and his work.

Khair

Kartikay

 

The Urdu word that means good

and is said to wish your well-being,

is often used as an act of letting go.

 

The letting-it-be when a thought

that is somewhere between your lips

and the tongue, would rather be unsaid.

 

On a good day I would tell you that it means

to choose the being-well of the conversation –

that relationship – over the being-right of you.

Somewhere, ‘???’ would be the name of my home

—a place for love and light, where opinions exist

as a mosaic floor, and not half-eaten sentences.

 

Khair, I must stop lying—my tongue usually finds

the word, the way my hand looks for a light switch

when the room goes dark—to erase hazy uncertainty.

Image credit: the author

Note

Growing up, Urdu constituted a much larger chunk of the daily-speak at home than what would qualify as Hindi. The distinction of this duality only came to my attention only after leaving home, but never managed to reached my vocabulary, and so the interpretation of the word “Khair” in this poem possibly is more of a vernacular usage, than a literal meaning.

Kartikay is a 27-year-old bilingual poet from Kanpur (UP) with his heart by the sea in Mumbai. Returning to poetry in 2020, he has been writing with The Quarantine Train – traversing voices, themes and forms in English or Hindustani. His original work has been featured in Narrow Road Journal, The Alipore Post, deCenter Magazine, and Gulmohar QuarterlyThe Usawa Literary Review featured a poem translated by him.

Bovine Intervention

Satya Dash

Congratulations, my father says, the vowels conspicuous

like rose petals in warm water. The news of my promotion

hastens the sky’s blackening. A small town of mustard oiled finger

licking dinners and burpy stomachs beckons behind the wind

shield. To love food is a great way to love yourself. Yet, I’m

tired of my mouth. How all it does is churn

want. Its ceaselessness, congratulatory beyond reform.

My parents too pick me up without fail every time I land

at the Bhubaneswar airport. 17 times in the last 6 years. I count

because cumulation offers resilience that nostalgia

doesn’t. The heat of the minute hand’s madness ends every daynight

couplet in clammy slumber; the silence inside my father’s car

reinforces a ghazal’s beauty. On the way back home, I see

cattle through the window, a herd sailing across the road,

stubborn calf coaxed by the mother to move, making us wait.

In familial silence, it strikes me I had forgotten

exactly how cows look like, their hoofs pecking my eardrum in gentle

clops. Their flesh very much a national bone of contention. The dusk

sky’s amber wrung hard into the saffron of brows, smeared

on manifestos. The government doesn’t understand

Tagore, Rumi or Faiz. Not because it can’t

 

 

but because it won’t. On manifestos, the GDP

swells. Obviously, no mention is made of the formula

tweaked to achieve the desired percentage. Very similar

to the way I approached math questions in school,

noting down the answer from the book’s back section,

then working my way upwards. My father abhorred that method.

But today he jokes, if everybody becomes a poet

who will do the actual work? My fists close involuntarily

in the tautness of rush, tempted to power through moving

glass, my hand regurgitating faculties of anger like a cow’s

fascinating stomach. For days, the odder side of my brain mulling—

if men were to bleed monthly, would the world be redder, a more

epilogued organism? Men in the long history of the town I came from,

where this car was headed now, thrashing legs on thick mattressed

beds, news of their mysterious wrath spreading in hushed

whispers. My father, once proud of his, now worn down

by age. My mother says he finds it impossible to weep. Even

when he wants to. It’s funny how contraction bares new

ground. Emergent lime. Sweet swallowing of flame.

For instance, father following up his good night

incredulously with I’m proud of you. While my simmering

brown corpse on the drawing room couch

feigns unbearably the anesthesia of slumber.

Satya DashWaxwing, Wildness, Redivider, Passages North, The Boiler, The Florida Review, Prelude, The Cortland Review and The Journal among others. He grew up in Cuttack and now lives in Bangalore, India. He tweets at: @satya043

Cox Bazaar

Sara Sethia

The girl says     hungry     is enough word
to describe childhood.
The man at the camp stared at the shape of her chest.
The curves refused to stay shy even in the black of the burqa.
That night at Cox Bazar             he ate them,
devouring mouthfuls.
His hunger wouldn’t end.
He would carry it on his lips
to the mouths of other men
                          berries
                                 pacifiers for howling adults
                                            raisins
                                                   grapes from the gardens of Eden.

Sara Sethia is a poet. Trained as an economist from the London School of Economics, she currently works at the Ashoka Centre for Economic Policy in India. You can connect with her on Instagram at @sethiasara.

A Birdsong

Aiswarya Garlapati

//For Nirbhaya

Inside a snowglobe
lies a city
wilting under smog;
there are no women
in this city,
only birds –
they reach their nests
before the night
swallows the day whole.
nobody questions this
nobody asks the city
where its women are hiding
they’re all busy,
sleepwalking
until
something jostles them
wakes them suddenly
from their tender trance
a woman
screaming
without any sound.
someone stole her voice
on a moving bus.
suddenly the city
stops churning, and stares.
the language of atrocity
etched in history
once again.
the heart of every bird
in the city
shreds.
nobody knows how
to stop the bleeding
or what to do
with all this blood.

Aiswarya Garlapati (she/her) is a part-time writer, poet, and spoken word artist based in Bangalore. Most of her work revolves around the themes of family, what it means to be a woman, endurance, and empathy. She has been a facilitator at several poetry workshops and is also the founder of a weekly poetry newsletter Fresh Off The Grill.

The New Word We Learned

Babitha Marina Justin

The first time Prof. Thomas taught us
anachronism in Dr. Faustus, the girls
tittered, we jangled our bangles
and pleated our pallus
with our shy, sweaty palms.

‘Aana’ in Malayalam is an elephant,
and in our arrogant parlance of the young
‘chroni’ was madness.
We laughed at the ‘mad elephant.’

Everything tickled us, the handsome professor
cracked a joke to distract the class,
we had read that before in
Boban and Molly
comic strips.
He glanced at us like lightning,
licked his moustache and spelled
‘necromancy’ with a hiss. Nothing to do with
either neck or romance, he said.
That zipped us up with a double-edged stab,
we didn’t talk about it.

Years later, I met Prof. Thomas at his home,
arthritic and obese. He could no longer
teach, but he lingered like an anachronism,
senility drooling from his mouth,
in a room full of freshly washed grand-children.
My neck tingled
sensing the absence of new words.

Babitha Marina Justin is an Associate Professor in English, a poet, and an artist. A Pushcart Prize nominee in 2018, her poems and short stories have appeared in many journals like Eclectica, Esthetic Apostle, The Paragon Press, Fulcrum, The Scriblerus, Trampset, Constellations, etc. She has published two collections of poems, Of Fireflies, Guns and the Hills (2015) and I Cook My Own Feast (2019). She is about to debut as a novelist with Sandpaper Memories (2021).

Small feelings

Aekta Khubchandani

Pigeonhole is a big word
but a small thing.
I liked aliens
until I learned the word alienated.
Everything is different after then.
Long distance (everything) is fragile.
It’s like an amber butterfly lost in the sun.
Micro fiction is a thing now.
I imagine you on a date with someone else.
I wish my name was someone else.

Blue is a feeling of a leaking boat
swimming in a swelling ocean.
How serene.
We are all moving islands,
carrying our water along.
Someone has to swim through
to finally reach us.
I am an aching comma today.
How many songs can hold a memory?

I’ve lost count
I wake up, wake up,
wake up, wake wake up
to your voice in my head.
The sun lies golden
and naked on my desk.
Feet cold from last night.
Grays are the grace
of life because a dark corner
isn’t the darkest moment.

My face is shrinking in the bedsheet
I am shrinking in present continuous tense
becoming smaller than pigeonholes.
I’m a moon on a no moon day,
a cigarette burning
burning to ash and ash and ashes.
Like ducklings that can’t quack,
sparrows that have forgotten how to chirp,
water chestnuts losing water
without water in them anymore.

Long distance (anything) is tender.
We are a flower
drawn on the palm of someone
who washes their hands too often.

 
Aekta Khubchandani is a poet from Bombay currently in the MFA program at The New School, NY. Recently, her work “Love in Bengali Dialect” won the Pigeon Pages Fiction prize and her poetry won honorable mention in the Paul Violi contest. Her work is featured in The Aerogram, Sky Island Journal, The Inquisitive Eater, and elsewhere.

Bardo Thödol for a Woman from Kumik 

Kanya Kanchana  

Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra (Tibetan: Kuntuzangpo) in yabyum with his consort Primordial Dakini Samantabhadri (Tibetan: Kuntuzangmo) from the 19thC Bardo Thödol mural, Chenrezig Lakhang, Lamayuru monastery, Ladakh
Photo credit: Kaya Dorjay Angdus, 2010; provided by Kristin Blancke.

Lhamo Dolma: You have died. 

 

Lhamo Dolma of Kumik village, child of noble family, you are now dead. 

 

Light of this world is fading. Light of the next is yet to come.  

In this umbra, Lhamo Dolma, death has arrived. It is time. 

 

You  

who chomped mountains like tsampa 

laughing, drank rivers like po cha, 

you are now dead? 

 

Lhamo Dolma: Do not be uncertain. 

 

Some went ahead. Others yet will follow.  

Remember your practice, your average capacities. 

 

Your hypnagogic hair, 

your three-jewel eyes, 

your Changtang mind,  

average capacities.  

 

Lhamo Dolma: Listen without distraction. 

 

In the bardo of becoming, there is no stopping. 

See things as they are, and be on your way. 

 

Ache, leave us your fires, 

your yaks, your jewels. 

Leave us the blood 

your fontanelle drains. 

Leave us your breath, 

your body, your ash.   

3 of 3 

Leave us, leave us, 

and do not look back. 

 

Lhamo Dolma: Listen with attention. 

 

Swarming, roaring, within the bright, 

a thousand thunders, remember tonight. 

 

The chang is a lake.  

The night is a wheel. 

My heart is a flag. 

You inbetween. 

  

Photo credit: Savita Rani, 2019 

Kanya Kanchana is a poet and translator from India. Her writing has appeared in POETRY, Anomaly, Asymptote, TrinityJoLTLitro, Paper Darts, and The Common. Her translations have appeared in Exchanges, Asymptote, Waxwing, Circumference, Aldus, and Muse India. Her poetry was shortlisted for the 2019 Disquiet Prize.

Veyil

Greeshma Gayathri 

Author’s Note: “Veyil” translates as “sunlight” or “sunshine” in Tamizh and Malayalam- the two South Indian languages that I grew up with. From childhood, I was fascinated by the mysterious ways in which its color and intensity affects the mood of the moment in subtle ways. What seemed even more interesting was how, when under it, my black hair turned golden sometimes. And I realized there was a very playful hide- and- seek between the shades of black and brown in the sun’s bare magic that no English word seemed to justify when it came to choosing a title.  

 

Drunken eyes that fleck guavas on the mud will tell you: 

 

caterpillar fleece the size of ants – 

orange dashes, black dots, 

blow into their whispers a Morse code of sorts 

 

on the exact shade of light and for how long 

leaves before rain must wear. 

 

Sunlight is synecdoche 

 

anchored in mood swings, 

etched in film memory, 

the color of  Saturday noons. 

 

In its flare, ashen is auburn. 

Charcoal sleeps in this assonance. 

 

Yet no one believes when I say I am a tree – 

I can turn the sun to earth 

on me. 

 

They shut my mouth with melanin. 

 

Are kites ever scorched? 

 

I would say I have a way with light. 

 

Greeshma Gayathri is a recent graduate in civil engineering who occasionally?writes poems. 

The end of the road 

Ankita Anand  

When it gets uphill  

The rickshaw puller  

Stops pedalling  

And pulls with his hands  

Our weight  

So we can reach  

Where we want. 

One day  

At that point in the road  

He may just walk off  

Leaving us stranded, 

Not out of anger, hatred or vendetta, 

But because in that moment  

We’d have ceased to exist for him  

Like he had for us  

Ages ago. 

 

In that moment  

He would have decided  

He couldn’t care less. 

credit: Junoon Photography Club, NSUT, 2019 

Ankita Anand’s writing has travelled through India, Pakistan, Singapore, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, the US and the UK. She is also a journalist, and her work has been supported and awarded by multiple fellowships and awards in India and abroad. 

A Textbook Afternoon

Anannya Uberoi  

Photo credit: Anannya Uberoi, 2019

A textbook afternoon 

half the cover falling off, half 

coiled between your legs, 

the bed is a tulip field from 

the golden sun, my eyes are 

closing from the light as I 

reach for the end of the 

warm, brown curtain like a 

dormouse hanging on a 

tablecloth. The duel between 

my eyes and the sun, struggling 

to rid my arms of the weight of 

your creme-quilled pillow up 

like an egg in the brightness, 

short-lived. An hour hence, 

we are watching the window 

from a common angle: the sun 

softer, your hair darker, my 

eyes wider. 

I often tell you I dig things 

sans 

 meaning: watching you 

for hours, open-mouthed, 

in a safe haven of words 

we create spontaneously 

without definitions and 

poems that exist as 

mere permutations of, 

the afternoon:  

sans 

 meaning, 

sans 

 design,  

sans 

 conversation. 

A squirrel dashes to a 

squash blossom on the grass, 

and somewhere between your 

thrusts and nudges a few 

sparrows flew into our lawn 

and have nestled there. 

Author photo credit: Tanya Shrivastava 2020 

Anannya Uberoi is a full-time software engineer and a part-time tea connoisseur based in Madrid. A travel junkie, she logs her experiences from unconventional journeys on paper. Her poems and short fiction have appeared and are forthcoming in several publications, including The Delhi Walla, eFiction India, Lapiz Lazuli and Deep Wild.