Poems by Shalim Hussain


One claw on a bar,
and crow
lifts the other to his lips
Blows the day’s first puff.
His view races smoke through the fencing,
conductors spank buses on-
‘Dighalipukhuri. Dighalipukhuri.’

Long pond.

He stares at a chirping he can never touch,
at entwined buds,
and pigeons floating together in air bubbles,
and lovebirds in love rows,
their heads under their wings.
His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath.

At home, his vulture
a spear in her hair and
a carcass in her beak.

Here he makes his day long,
sometimes swoops down and scoops up
beakfuls of love from the face of
Love like the blushes of hyacinths
skimmed behind boats.
The trees branded with Duryodhan’s incense,
Bhanumati’s anklets still tinkle under the
her turmeric and potfuls of milk
her wedding tears
and a few thousand years of love.

He will return to blow the night’s last mists.

*Dighalipukhuri, literally ‘long pond’, is an ancient pond in Guwahati frequented by lovers. It is connected by an underground tunnel to the river Brahmaputra and was supposedly dug for the wedding bath of the Pandava prince Duryodhana and Bhanumati,, the daughter of King Bhagadatta.

Recollections on a wintry evening.
(For Tasi)

You will be a stranger in
The city of dead fairies, she said
How could I tell her that all this drifting
Between minds and lands
Had made me one long ago?
At home, at the sheepman’s last song
‘Hai re hai, the toga’s butt is red’
And as it flapped away,
I could only see its blackness
Trailing against the winter’s white.
Stepping on the sharp grass, my
Feet cut on the edges
And blood dewed out on the silver green edges.
When segun pods burst to release
The spirits within,
I saw only dreams wafting
On feathered backs.
My neighbour was a black water tank and
A row of betel nut trees
Until one evening I wandered into our common backyard
And as cobwebs settled on my hair
And one dry leaf grafted on my forehead,
Stumbled on the lichen on two old tombs.
Today my neighbour, a straw filled
Desert cooler hugs me tight when I pass.

Then as a strange pointy haired fairy of five
I tried to blow fog to match my uncle’s cigarette tricks.
Today, I don’t wait for seasons or fog.
And when I trudge my soul up the great mosque’s steps
To cry ‘prayer is better than sleep’,
My voice beats against the wings of ghosts.

Then when the boatman anchored us on a sand bank,
And passed a sky of blue tarpaulin paper over our heads,
I smiled at two pairs of ancient teeth
Rolling up hope and damnation in a
Paper cylinder of weed.
Then sneaked out to see the river lashing and lashing again
On the nose of the boat
Here, I stand in rolled up pants
Seeing the rain churn up streets
Into a whirlpool of naked manholes.
And pulling my feet away from its gargling,
Open my palm for flowers
Falling as soft as teardrops.

-          Shalim Hussain, New Delhi

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