Ponni, the Poacher’s Daughter

This poem is in response to a prompt from Magpie Tales

My father gave me this
(strokes the ivory elephant ,
coarsely carved)
I asked if he made it from the moon
seeing the rivers that ran on it

the moon
the one
that hung over the tamarind tree,
it dipped down to bite into the tamarind pods
I told grandfather so
every time he complained that Murugan sneaked up
to eat all those sour beans.
I have collected money
for harvest of these tamarinds, he said
the men from the city will come next week
money for the tamarind that belonged to the village?
looting I think ran in the family.

He hated my father  
he picked on me instead
why do you want to go to school, he  asked
all this fancy stuff’s  from your father
first tell him what it is to live like a civilized man
not like an animal in the forest
he pointed his hand to a place out there

but
forest crept to our door step
my grandfather fought it every monsoon
hacked away the creepers and shrubs
that overran the millet field
the locust that invaded from the jungle

but
he couldn’t check when the poacher picked his daughter
my mother, dusky like the areca nut
turmeric glistening on her face
aavaram poo in a cluster on her oiled hair
followed the poacher

they never married, my grandfather said
love child then was I?
not a poetic soul  the old man said,
 a child born of lust

that boy Murugan kissed me
a sleepy afternoon
under the mango tree
when I threatened him
he said
your father kills
kills  kills  kills
and
your mother whores
a whore  a whore  a whore

that night  I threw a tantrum
said I will run into the jungle
ask my mother
ask your mother what little slut, my grandfather asked
voice thick with arrack

you know,  in small huts
we grew seeing everything
my friend Rajathi
said the way her father came
every night drunk
to her mother.

I did not after all run into the jungle
my mother was in no hurry to come
though message travelled like drum beats in Africa
but a little girl’s rant means nothing.

Murugan stopped me
again again
under the mango tree
I was only eight
Rajathi told
you’re only eight for anything
tell me, she asked, her brows furrowing ridges
where do your parents live in the forest –
in the open?  in the open  where everyone can see
her eyes became large with suggestion
don’t tell anybody I asked you of your father
my mother says your father has
eyes and ears everywhere.

Now don’t think my mother never came
she came to my grandfather’s house
they fought day long
she brew his ragi gruel
cursed him for starving me

she stayed for weeks
lazed in the warm sun
dressed for the evening
bought bangles at the village temple
that she wore sitting
on steps that led to the tank

and one morning
I would find her gone
leaving money under my pillow.

She said she took me to him
many times
as a child
the earliest I remember
I was eightnine?
he gave me this –
elephant
stretching languidly
beside a jade pool
tall grass at his feet
downy hair on his tail ruffled
the breeze from the hills
clear stream ran on the skin
the moony milkness
what is this made of
I held my hand out

my father was bare torsoed
neem oil shone on his skin
as he walked
small paunch shuddered gently
he smiled
it froze on his lips
not the way it travelled to my mother’s eyes
his voice was a wheeze
ivory, from an elephant.

After he was killed
the Women’s Group said
clean your chest
hug your past
who touched you where
tell us it’ll help
and did you see elephant gore
does white, moon, milk
appear to have a shot of blood?

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10 thoughts on “Ponni, the Poacher’s Daughter

  1. i am visiting from magpie tales.
    although i am bit late…i am pleased to be here.

    i will not leave words, copied and pasted as irrelevant and trite…instead i will spill my comments onto your page as i have felt the piece speak to me. and how can your work say the same as another writer’s? it cannot.
    the theme perhaps…but we are to immerse ourselves…
    as so i have.
    and i am drenched in the complexity of life itself. in it wonder…in its joy…and its sadness. you have blanketed me with a genuine sense of sweet sorrow.

  2. Dear Uma: The memories of the events in this young girl’s life is fitting for the International Women’s Day March 8, 2010. Although the life’s events were unfair to her, there are definite signs of strength in her seeking help to resolve past pain. Love your symbolism!

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