LASTLY AND OTHER POEMS

Nabina Das

Nabina Das

Nabina Das

Summer of 2006, Rue du Faubourg-St. Antoine, Paris
For Czeslaw Milosz

Walking into the fish
store I pick
up a herring, see
its dying eyes.
All the while
the Senegalese
butcher keeps asking me
over and over something
I don’t understand:
perhaps fillets or steaks,
how I want them, whether
I eat them
with lime or lentils.
Or perhaps
his gesture
is at the unaccustomed
cherries falling
out of my shopping
bag touched
by skins of hands from continents.
They were many:
 
“… from Jassy and Koloshvar, Wilno and Bucharest, Saigon and Marrakesh”
 
A man paints
the wall in front
of a studio that has
my scarf flutter
from the window
where I hang
my showered arms
in the evenings
to watch all
expressions rally
towards the somber
Bastille holding bright
placards and greens and fish
and balloons. Men
and purple mothers
on the sidewalk
wearing boubous pushing prams
with kids that answer ‘Oui!’
into the red-wine
evening of the street,
the silent statues, roundabouts.
Then I see the horseman
rise at Place
de la Nation
a wanderer who forgot what
he’s looking for, watching
civilizations take shape
as my fingers sink
deep into the fresh country
baguette the old Romanian baker
hands me minus the change.
I then wade in the street
to see how deep
run the tears of milling
beggars, teenagers hop-
scotching on skateboards
between poppies in the grass,
the smiles of older men
of heavy leathery faces
playing petanque
in a dusty park passing
sweaty bills from hand to hand.
They were many…
 
I wait for the Turkish
grandfather to skim
tender meat
for my sandwich, flare up
the harissa
and words come
back like sleepy embers:
Where’s your home and do
you miss your wife or horse?
Mundane exchanges
that hold like branches to the trees
lining my Rue
du Faubourg-St. Antoine
stretched from the wings
of a spent owl
that perches only at night
hooting hoo hoo hoo
at our taboos
like the one I left
under a peepul leaf
in an earthen jar
drinking the sap of dust
from our feet
all over this fist-flattened world.
 
We are many
not only

“… from Jassy and Koloshvar, Wilno and Bucharest, Saigon and Marrakesh”

Working Nrityagram

1
The sky will be your night owl
Wanting to fly in a sweep from Mohanan’s hands
Get stuck on Lakamma’s pallav – by dawn.

2
My swoon under the papaya tree
It had grown an inch taller than my scalp
What took the bat to forsake its swing!

3
The champaka was my faraway finger
The champaka was your member
Lord, the night missed its sweet surrender.

4
Mangala, take your brass bowls away
They outshine the day
Then did you have to laugh, all that soon!

5
Dark, dark, it’s so very dark
Across the red earth sleeping drunken quiet
No one knows who goes, who turns in the slow, hay-tossed dark.

Lastly

My grandpa lies dying
Between a soft cotton sheet
And an old blanket they’d usually never keep at home
But for my whimsical grandpa
Rich pillows frame his head like spilling wishes
About the sons he wants to meet and never
Met for months.
 
He lies on the serene bed looks up
At the colonial clock, a copper
Glass of some healthful drink, his dapper
Wall picture from ‘services’ days
With his white master’s jovial hands
On his shoulder cranks, grandma’s god
Of four or fifty faces on another wall
Then, looks down on his own feet, falling
Almost off the bed, very tall, but still.
 
Even when he knows this is the last
Afternoon or evening (he really had no sense of time
At that time) he thinks of a letter he had started
A letter he wanted to finish
For his superiors at work to tell
Them his worth.
 
Grandma wipes her eyes
She holds the letter, cannot though write
The end, for she
Is un-lettered
But through her sobs she makes it clear
All she cares is his life
Whether decorated or blanketed
And she laments about the sons
About whom grandpa is too proud to ask
 
His eyes close and her sobs
Are the only human movements
In the room
The colonial clock glances at its hands
The copper glass untouched
The men of the wall picture smile
At the grandpa below, feet hard and askew
When they make sure he is dead
He’s elevated as he desired
Next to his bosses, put up framed.


Nabina Das's first novel, Footprints in the Bajra, was longlisted in the 2011 Vodafone Crossword Book Award. Among her forthcoming books are a poetry collection, Into the Migrant City, a shorter collection, Blue Vessel and a short fiction book, The House of Twining Roses - Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped.
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