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Dying With a Little Patience
ABHIJIT SARMAH is a poet and screenwriter from the North-east Indian state of Assam. He has one chapbook of poetry, The Voice Under Silence (February 2016), to his credit. Dying With a Little Patience is his first full-length collection of poetry. Abhijit has contributed to various print and online journals, including South 85 Journal, Salmon Creek Journal, Not Very Quiet, The Scriblerus and others. You may reach out to Abhijit on Instagram @abhijitsarmahwritespoetry or via email at [email protected]
ALSO BY ABHIJIT SARMAH The Voice Under Silence (2016)
Dying With a Little Patience POEMS
A CROWDFUNDED PROJECT
Copyright © 2020 by Abhijit Sarmah All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Ordering Information: Quantity sales. Special discounts are available on quantity purchases by schools, colleges, universities, associations, and others. For details, contact the author: Email: [email protected] or Tel: (+91) 8011891170 First Edition, Printed in the Republic of India, 2020
Printed in India by Royal Offset (Jorhat, Assam) Printed internationally by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform (Scotts Valley, California)
FOR the millions of them in refugee camps across the world IN MEMORY OF my grandmother
Some of these poems in their initial versions have appeared previously in South 85 Journal (poetry slam submissions), Salmon Creek Journal, Not So Quiet and The Scriblerus to all of whom the author offers his thanks.
I would like to acknowledge the enormous help given to me in creating this book. For their patience and guidance, Dr. Basil N. Darlong Diengdoh, Dr. Mridul Bordoloi, Dr. Namrata Pathak, Dr. Nasmeem F. Akhtar, Saba Anish and Dr. Surajit Sarma. Also, special thanks to Abhilekha Mohan, Akancha Singh, Archana Sahu, Devopratim Biswas, Geetanjali Sarmah, Nandini Bora Choudhury, Pratik Permey, Priyami Kharghoria, Rohan Hasan, Saba Anish, Sumki Begum and Udipta Sarma for their unwavering support and for funding the publication of this book. And, as always, my appreciation to my parents, Nagen Sarmah and Ruby Sarmah, and mentor Aruni Kashyap for always believing in me. Lastly, my thanks to Shilpa Doley, for pushing me to complete this book and dealing with my unending bouts of depression.
Contents In Another Life: A Prologue I. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
For How Long Carving a Hymn The City An Unfinished Portrait of a Lady The Kind Alternate Names For Refugee Boys Remembrance Touch Me Honeybunch A Night-Piece
II. 1. Thread It Infinitely 2. You Are Human Until They Burn Down Your House 3. Lines Written Over a Cup of Black Coffee on a Wednesday Evening 4. If You Return 5. Re-imagining a Rape 6. Far memory; or, Memory of a Dying Grandmother 7. Mountain Song 8. Telephone Conversation
9. A Little Piece of Memory 10. On Those Who Live By The River in Houses Made of Plastic Wrappers III. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. NOTES
On The Death Of A Brother A Refugee Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Refugee We Carry the Flesh Sinkers A Survivor‟s Monologue, 1982 Do Dead Men Come Home from War? A Love Song (translation) Partition Lines Written On The Walls Of A Refugee Camp My Brother‟s Body Was in Pieces In Front of Me
No night is long enough for us to dream twice. ― Mahmoud Darwish, „The Raven‟s Ink‟
IN ANOTHER LIFE: A PROLOGUE In another life past midwinter, I don‟t think of gas stoves, or dying riverdancers— I‟m calm moonlight with snowy hands. In another life past midwinter my soul is a web of country mist, a sweet song on rainbow shell—
Our hollow murmurs are paraphrased confessions.
By now when you say I stop somewhere waiting for you who is the I and who come to that is you [?] —W. S. Merwin, „Whoever You Are‟
FOR HOW LONG for how long can shadows deceive? tomorrow, draw the curtain in hope
forget the footfall, see the crimson look out for no reason, you‟ll have it.
if, accidently, you run into yourself in the next corner, smile at yourself
do offer a flower — white is better. under the pale light of afternoon
listen to Fitzgerald, recollect grandma‟s knitting lessons, float
back into your childhood, you will see, it was you who left not she.
doorways are illusions, remember, everything is a premonition, yet,
you can always do away with high school portraits and roughness.
CARVING A HYMN I tried to carve a hymn on a rock one summer night until stars cumulated on my sleeves and every single word became a distinct footnote in my memory—
invisible rainbows threw down their fillets and the moon sang her songs on holy faces crying to dead valleys and eventually prying, half-blind by one dead season—
the fog, too, gently hummed its cold electric mantras — the night slowly turned to a mother‟s killing rage: storming, thundering, raining unpicked colours, I became one side of a truth and a hammer.
THE CITY the city has always been cruel to me and has seemed safe only through windows
its rising clouds and winged seeds shriek and demand polished feelings all day long
I am a town boy, I like midnight and Chinese wind on my face, we don‟t decorate boards with covenants.
our eyes are eternal rivers they read as barrens and the broken bodies are mended newsreels.
AN UNFINISHED PORTRAIT OF A LADY her lips curl like a glazier‟s wounded fingers over his wife‟s dying skin—
quite unlike her hair that flows like a fiery mountain stream—
her eyes are gentle hives of fear, whispering songs of wild songbirds and the moon—
the arms carry marks of snowdrops, raw with the touch of fitful dusks—
she is a wounded meteor
shooting across a frost-washed sky…
THE KIND I won‟t take off your shirt Or brassiere, or say, step-in right away— I am not that kind of a man (you‟d know only if you go by the kinds schoolgirls discuss over plain tea and pancakes on Mondays) I (perhaps) won‟t even touch you until I can forget every damn city that has destroyed me in every possible way, and, until you can make my palms feel like palms again. I will wait
or paint you
in passive sentences, if possible in moments. I‟ve broken enough women with
the slightest of touch, you see— I will be insanely considerate. I might search for bruises
a while later
and, measure you in nights and white oleanders. And, if it turns unbearable, I might even play some Franklin or,
tell you about
that one time a man in a dream smothered me with elm and renamed me. I will ask about your lovers. I might cry all night. But I won‟t take off your shirt Or brassiere, or say, step-in right away— I am not that kind of a man
(The last woman taught me the body is an orchard on fire. We ate soap one weekend.)
ALTERNATE NAMES FOR REFUGEE BOYS (after Danez Smith)
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.
moth circling a lamp yellow sands of a September afternoon ten men for one grave unheard chorus snowflake riddling the sea-wind a refugee in every language violet of a night‟s lust ordinary revelation of brown history forgotten shadow of lilacs lonely horse under moon‟s warm gaze in a grove an uncured mental illness fleece of a burning mosque dead
REMEMBRANCE (The six Rohingyas fled Burma in June 2013 after increasing persecution and harassment in their home city of Yangon. Six months later, after travelling through Thailand and Malaysia, they reached Indonesia, from where they boarded a small boat with about 70 other people seeking refuge in Australia. The boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy and its passengers taken to the detention centre on Christmas Island. Buzzfeed News, August 10, 2019)
there are mornings when the coffee smells like your palm after gathering fireflies all night—
I sip it slow, and calmly in my head count the times we sat watching nights sprout into fine delicate emotions—
often after the first cup, there are country songs on radio the same white ones you open up to
and sink into, steadily—
overwhelmed, I turn it off fast and walk the garden looking for twigs and pieces of the moon left behind on earth.
TOUCH ME (after e.e. cummings)
t o u ch me in all strangeways touch (like rain touches the moon and a man touches her GRASSBLADES say something, one cigarette?) move: death still is the rhythm I can only be your awkward madn ess and you my halfsmile past afterlife
who answers your late night screams?
The re is no sun
clocks know (reawaken) ing there is only one thing beautiful (a gentle k i s s)
HONEYBUNCH honeybunch I give you my love cased in an ice chest— refrigerate the maelstrom of moonlight smooches, time thwarts my timeless efforts and dry cleans my charisma— dear orioles, it‟s late go home now.
A NIGHT-PIECE we haven‟t spoken to each other for so long now I have nothing left to say except for if you remember remind me of how you look. I look more like my mother at 18 now, my face in her dressing mirror is of a dead child in flames. even a tiny sparrow on a live wire excites me. sometimes I feel it‟s alright to not have you around anymore for now I will not know you from your roots, from your river songs, anguish or soft hands inside your gloves. I have so many nights of loneliness inside me at 3 am, waiting for your call, I am a street ghost in a gray skirt. You were right, I know no hope. Even in the darkest hours, I plant maroon flowers on the staircase. my briefcase filled with cat bones. Next door, an old mourner is singing to death and a broken heater. She wishes to go and hopes to return soon. She doesn‟t know me but I know she is kind, and admires morning whiskey and naked dandelions. Leonard Cohen is too soft to connect to. When you return bring me with you, it will be less awkward.
He who was living is now dead We who were living are now dying With a little patience — T.S. Eliot, „The Waste Land‟
THREAD IT INFINITELY a noiseless sky, the moon sits calmly on its edge watching with its calm tired eyes floating clouds and cornfields
walking down a signal a young man thinks of rainbow mist and late night orchestras, his arms slowly turning into hot pieces of iron
YOU ARE HUMAN UNTIL THEY BURN DOWN YOUR HOUSE “Wherever the homeless die is home” . messages: (unread) the city looks funny after six mugs of coffee its stars stuck in deep mud… THAT‟S ALRIGHT, LOVE THAT‟S ALRIGHT T-H-A-T-S-A-L-R-I-G-H-T . there‟s not much a boy with an ocean in his eyes can fix. .
I think of you in the back street opening up to twelve strangers— they all say you are dead. . Every evening here is a Van Gogh painting. . — but you were spring in 1998. . my palms are larger than the cosmos, for it remembers the touch of Venus and the taste of grief. . “Wherever the homeless die is home” .
so much of madness to adjust. . think of god as a chicken jammed up against the blades of a furnace. . they left the door open and decided on the colour of stars.
LINES WRITTEN OVER A CUP OF BLACK COFFEE ON A WEDNESDAY EVENING they no longer have stories about rivers dripping out of wet trees, or dead kids swimming in salt water all summer—
the tablecloth in this goddamned café reminds me of his wrist, and broken whispers telling how hard it is to cry sometimes—
if you let them, white shadows follow you home and ask for seasons of Vivaldi and leave you dead by the bedroom window—
that summer in a muscle car he drove me to the country and promised a winter —what price to pay for a cup of black coffee?
IF YOU RETURN
In the heart of the city, just at the end of yet another sleepless night, moments before sunlight crossed the indelible shadows of erected shrines & quiet gods, you left me clenching a dead moon.
What continues in this city now is your laughter, blood-stained evenings
and disappearance of more young men.
My love, keep safe the memories of this land and people.
There are too many letters under my bed for you to read (if you return).
RE-IMAGINING A RAPE (Fatema, a Rohingya refugee says she was raped after her husband was murdered. The 16-year-old now doesn‟t know whose baby she is carrying. CTV News, May 21, 2018 )
Neither a single hoot nor a bird-cry that night resounded through the pregnant fields while our sister slept groaning in the bloodied arms of our brown mother—
rain quails and eagles hunched their heads low while ancient river fairies tried to wash her wounds with prayers and warm tears of the clouds—
there were but songs echoing, of lovers
and heartbreaks, dripping endlessly into the night sky from the radios of the trucks and jeeps in the dark: what wrong have I done to lose your love?—
When the dark shadows left with frosty feathers, tiny fishes plopped desperately and offered their dance for the day— the sun came up, the day went on, and the world, strangely enough, stood perfectly fine.
FAR MEMORY; OR, MEMORY OF A DYING GRANDMOTHER When she was old and breathing, she always stared out of the bedroom window that opened to a cold cluster of Eucalyptuses and crisp wild grass— the sun-stained leaves often drifted in to land on her dresser that sat like an exanimate Sunday in mid-January— the timeless wind through disentangled sprigs feted her splendour and when winter melted into monsoon, sparrows walked over the painted porch and danced for her— but, she decided to leave.
MOUNTAIN SONG beloved of the winter sky, don‟t you see my veins?
it is strange how you carry memories like an unfamiliar universe under your shawl
and, how eagerly on your golden lap I unravel
and long for your cozy silhouette against the scarlet paint of the tasselled moon.
(listen: will autumn put on a black veil, or
will it carry the ashes of your restless streams?)
([U.S.] Immigration officials have been permitted to tape the phone calls of refugees and asylum seekers … for the past three years. The Guardian, 10 April 2016.)
halfway through the conversation I freak out & end up telling for a zillion times how much I love you. as long as I love you I am safe from myself and the world. miles away fresh sights of red trees and painted cupboards remind you of my fingers and you drown yourself in a blocked sink of sadness. of course I manage to understand life in bits, in newer tides. I know rock bottom— but sunsets do not make enough sense to me like my mother‟s love for dead flowers. Truth: evenings are harder without you, without you trying hard to never forget how I smell. my body tastes exactly like you remember. the flowers of our love are weeds now, but they still attract wind. they bloom through time and want no home.
A LITTLE PIECE OF MEMORY She wouldn‟t understand why in all those stories mother told the evil ones (only if she knew evil from good then) would hide, or sing lullabies all afternoon luring kids by the pond beneath a thick shawl of powdered fog and purple flowers— say, she even wouldn‟t understand the notes on her desk saying: don‟t let them touch you, evil ones sweep little lassies away by tides of scream and swift
black power— or, say, the moon hanging in the porch quietly meditating on young crickets‟ cry and warm disintegration of the night.— she would often stare at me calmly from across the aisle waiting to hear bedtime songs, but instead would make stories on her own about seabirds and blowballs shaped like a deer head.
ON THOSE WHO LIVE BY THE RIVER IN HOUSES MADE OF PLASTIC WRAPPERS because we still love and still pray because our bodies are not rotten tulips because in rivers we count stars all night hope — we still find happiness. when it rains we sleep peacefully to its sound thighs to thighs, dumb from pain and hunger. a sand house is a sand house also to ones who make it. don‟t ask us to die: we too are humans, we too are shadows
POZZO: The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. —Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
ON THE DEATH OF A BROTHER A REFUGEE the day he died all I could think of was clanking pipes and moon.
his stories sat everywhere in the strange room like morning flies.
sleepless books were bushed (already) of unfamiliar touches, so I kept his shoes.
THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A REFUGEE
Release me, and restore me to the ground; Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave —
Alfred Tennyson, „Tithonus‟
I. In a camp of over a million refugees, the only unfamiliar face is his mother‟s.
II. The raven scratches the ground but the refugee has no land to bury himself in.
III. The refugee left his childhood to the fens,
now it‟s a firefly.
IV. Life and death Are one. Life and death and refugees Are one.
V. What to count on a Sunday evening? Planets, stars, dragonflies Or surviving refugees?
VI. They say, one must know What to ask for when hungry The refugees ask for blue skies
VII. Every time the old refugee Tells a joke It is his laugh that is Funnier than the joke
VIII. Life moves at a fixed pace Like clouds, and Brown warm water of rivers. Life halts Only for the refugees.
IX. Walking along the elms (the limits)
It is quite common For him to plunge into Happiness. Every other Refugee thinks he‟s crazy.
X. Often Everything looks exactly Like how you remember them. He told once: a single memory is enough To live a lifetime. “Them refugees, liars, them bastards!”
XI. Portraits of refugees Are the easiest:
Capture their tired eyes, Their sun-burnt chests and Memories of their land On the foreheads.
XII. Autumn leaves are falling. The refugees must be dying.
XIII. It was not too hungry For summer, yet Not too cold for prayers. The refugee knelt And was gone.
WE CARRY THE FLESH Faces and darkness separate us over and over. Now I am a lake. —Sylvia Plath, „Mirrors‟
We carry the flesh of moon around our weakening bones,
and our breaths are prayers our mothers refused to sing.
We are cold tikes of buried histories kept alive on the scales of our fingers—
Autumn dares not touch our souls, for it is the image of a sun.
SINKERS Oftentimes the town farms its own stories— like, of the man who disappears from the orphanage or, of the girls whose bodies are savaged by sewage rats all summer through to the cruellest winter every year
in nights like this, I draw moons on her forehead and spread gently like a Shakespearean sonnet there is no table salt in this shaker, hurry up you! give me some snow from Christmas last year—
the peculiar odour of apple birds give me this peculiar sense of sinking through the noise of old grieves and self-knowledge— if you want facts, here is one: sadness ends only with the end of thirst, with death.
A SURVIVOR’S MONOLOGUE, 1982 After a while you do not even feel the tearing of the skin and the head goes so heavy, it stoops. the spine melts into flesh & history dangles in splits from our grace
I mumble coldly: I am a father.
they hold up the chin & spit into our eyes, our backs stacked with glory are put to bake under the sun— dogs growl all night long.
patriotism hanged naked from khaki-colored fans and no one was really shocked— well, we often asked each other in whispers will people forget all these?
DO DEAD MEN COME HOME FROM WAR? There‟s something not so cool about a metaphor of violence
like, say, wanting to rub yourself against someone else‟s soul
and then writing lyrics about it.
the only question my seventy-two year old therapist addressed last year was:
do dead men come home from war? It is tiresome, he said, so they don‟t—
Later, he walked to the letter-office and cried.
A LOVE SONG (translation of Nabakanta Barua‟s Eta Premor Podyo) „Do you remember an inn, Miranda?‟ —Hilaire Belloc, „Tarantella‟
In rainy nights do you remember your poet, Arundhati? combed by moist light, the aroma of evening in your hair bun— do you remember Arundhati those poems incomprehensible to moonlight and clouds, love and hatred? that divine thread of dreams broken between you and me, do you remember, Arundhati! those pearls of moonlight on dubori grass, in hair‟s cloud, slender fingers‟
moons galore (for tides there wasn‟t a sea) even in ice-like touch such peace! Arundhati! Arundhati! having flown through many skies a stormbird‟s fugitive nest— in a crowd of partial sleep that one sleepless night— do you remember, Arundhati? In rainy nights, do you remember, Arundhati!
PARTITION (About 14 million people are thought to have abandoned their homes in the summer and fall of 1947, when colonial British administrators began dismantling the empire in southern Asia. Estimates of the number of people killed in those months range between 200,000 and 2 million. Washington Post)
are your drains clean of blood now? do you recall the names, and faces of your own people?
did your countrymen get to die right like human beings?
butchered sisters and mothers still wait by the windows, with no lantern.
that was no proper farewell past midnight.
minarets whisper your ghazals to an empty sky, Koklass‟ know the borders too.
what have you done, sir?
LINES WRITTEN ON THE WALLS OF A REFUGEE CAMP “but, why be scared when we aren‟t an echo or vapour of some ancient lies but a forgotten memory of maize fields and hot summer nights?
“they say the worst sides of us camouflage through different men and time until faith is upturned by solemn madness or a month with no real rainbow.
“sizeable number of springs will pass before I realize how weary I am of walking familiar graves and waiting for the end of time.”
MY BROTHER’S BODY WAS IN PIECES INFRONT OF ME I. hundreds are evacuated & lynched every morning while I make some coffee & toast some bread with no eagerness.
I watch fleshy shadows of angels run into the sky, though I ain‟t got any business with history and memory.
II. At heaven‟s gate: do not appear too humble to your god, demand ripe blackberries, firewood for carnivals, chariots built of blessings, valleys but with no shadows—
wake up, you, killed in the name of god, the marks of blades clutching your arms, your cold fingers and mucky shoes,
float back into a ripped womb of a burnt mother,
where we can never see your rage again,
where you are just another happy dream with a birthmark.
III. sing to me, amma, those songs you brought to this new land, tucked inside your only tattered copy of the Quran, tell me, amma, it was always about forgetting, & those last words you never spoke to your father.
IV. My first night without you & I dream of my brother
picking daisies on a long walk.
What a damned sinkhole you are pulling us through!
V. when the boat arrived, my father kissed the earth &
prayed. when the boat arrived, the sky was covered with tears of
lonely men. when the boat arrived, we were refugees to our own land.
VII. summer endless, death endless sun melting in my mouth endless endless voices, blood endless flying fishes cutting my skull endless
endless the journey of life.
VII. Cities are full of trouble & smoke Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you (John 14:27)
“An Unfinished Portrait of a Lady” borrows its title from Henry James‟ 1881 novel The Portrait of a Lady and alters it. “In the Course of a Week” is after Robert Creeley. “When She Was Old” is for my grandmother and “A Little Piece of Memory” is for my sister. “Re-imagining a Rape” borrows and alters a line from Virginia Woolf‟s Flush: A Biography (1933) “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Refugee” borrows and alters the title and a few lines from Wallace Stevens‟ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. “My Brother‟s Body Was in Pieces Infront of Me” borrows its title from an Al Jazeera headline (22 July, 2018)