My Mother – A Poem


First Published in Le Zaporogue XVI by various authors

 

My Mother

 

He sat beside me

silent as a breath

memories of that summer

wrapped in the wet crumpled tissue

that lay on his lap, his wrinkled hand

resting on the walking stick,

and then he spoke;

“Your mother’s hands were brown and soft,

just like the phulkas she made, she was

an earth woman. I often closed my eyes

when she sang, her songs rose from the

soft rhythms of the water wheel, the tinkling

of bells around the bullock’s neck, the

sweetness of the mustard flowers, and

the crackle of the wood fire of her stove, they

carried with them the scent of damp earth.

Often I would quietly slip in and listen

to her sing as she went about

doing her daily chores, her wet hair

rolled in a towel or loosely tied

in a bun with one or two tendrils

framing the face.

It was a cruel summer that year,

the river had dried and the cattle

kneeled and bowed their parched

heads to the river bed pleading

for a tickle of life, the fields

turned brown and the leafless trees

stood naked and exposed, as if

atoning to their unknown sins

under the merciless sky.

It was on such summer day I

found her hanging from the cross-beam

in the ceiling, the wood was old and

rot riddled but it held her weight

well enough. Her hair, shorn off,

lay in a jumbled pile on the floor,

next to it were the clothes she had worn,

the milk on the clay stove and boiled over

and dried, the milk bottle smashed against

the wall, the house smelled of rage,

lust and struggle. In the courtyard,

the clothesline had collapsed under

the weight of sorrow, the swing lay

dismantled and chained, a lone witness

to her shame. The makeshift hammock

hung limply from the tree,

a kind neighbour had quietly

whisked you away as the town burned.

Clasping your infant body

 like a broken doll and a

picture of your mother in my pocket,

I took refuge at a patchwork of shelters

that had sprouted on the smoldering land.

A few of us sat under a small covering

of rags, tarpaulin and sheet metal,

holding whatever was left of our

precious belongings, somewhere

a man sharpened the knife on a stone,

click clack, click clack,

the blade glistened in the dark,

another one sang, his low mournful voice

made the night bleed with absence and loss,

but the sun rose just as it always did,

bearing no sense of loss, and with it

we too rose carrying our wounded

identities and slipped into the folds

of anonymity.

A few days ago I walked through that part

of the town where I lived and loved,

where she sang her songs, our old haunts,

the old well, our ancestral home,

nothing lives there anymore,

even the ghosts have moved on,

but the river now flows to the brim and

in the fields the mustard flowers

bloom in abundance, the earth, they say,

still sings the songs of estrangement, in

memory of that summer and

 the sky pours it rains.”

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