Birds Don’t Sing On Such Days

It is very hot, a slab of heat presses the city
even the birds that sing all afternoon from the casuarina tree
remain silent . he calls and says
they do not cook salads here

I go to the garden
dig the earth, the heat pouring
sweat down my armpits. take an onion peel it
cut it eat it. or a cucumber
what about tomatoes
tomatoes too. you are not helpful
I have to ask you everything
you’re like them – not cooking salads?

basal has grown all over
roots joining hands
and laughing at me
dusting my dress with seeds
walking on me to the farthest corners of the garden
where snails have licked the barks with their tongues

he hasn’t slept for three years
I recount the story of a world war II soldier
who didn’t sleep a lifetime
a night’s vigil did that to him
at least you have a reason for losing sleep
a tick of anger
then muscles fall wry to sadness

I prefer almond to mango trees
like the bitterness of its unripe fruit
the leathery skin pickled in jars
that my grandmother bought at Agra

let the leaves remain my gardener said
the red ones turn brown and brittle
this is the lizard snake zone
safest because I hear them
then see them, their beady eyes like his

bananas are for constipation
he announces as he peels one
buy a dozen of them
they rot in the heat. he looks through the window

vapour rising from the damp soil
sun works on the moisture
schizophrenia
he has found a pen and a piece of paper
tell me if I have spelt it right
the sprinkler spurts out diamonds
each stream thin ribbons of rainbow

he has soiled his clothes, looking away he asks
what is your name
I keep forgetting these days
do not ask me to have bath
I won’t  get up from today
the enormity of the decision freezes him

the bland soup with mashed carrots and potatoes
that he drinks gives him an orange whisker
like a cat
I touch his face with so much love

the water that I have poured in my garden
keeps the earth cool –
microclimate in this city of desert.

(I went to Philosophy Talk, listened to ‘Faces, Feelings And Lies’ by Paul Ekman. I noted down words like deception, displeasure, humiliation, framework, random, behavior, repress, threat, punishment, emotion, lies, anger, detect, identity, recognition, experience, and my clinch word was micro expression – but not as psychologists use it clinically. I didn’t write a poem immediately, and when I got around to I didn’t use any of the words as I realized they could not be exorcised of their psycho pathological connotation. Instead I have used the image of a garden, have juxtaposed the microclimate that the narrator creates by tending this garden with the micro expressions of a troubled person she cares for.  All the words that I had noted, in various avatars, came to abide in the narrative of trauma and suffering, tending and caring.)

Big Tent Poetry

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9 thoughts on “Birds Don’t Sing On Such Days

  1. This is at once sad and loving and tender, Uma. So many beautiful lines:
    “where snails have licked the barks with their tongues”
    and
    “the sprinkler spurts out diamonds/each stream thin ribbons of rainbow”
    are merely two of them.

  2. What an incredible poem. I appreciate how the listening and the word-picking sat & stewed, composted nearly, into the work meant to be. (I love process notes — thank you!)

    It’s rich as good soil, humid with care.

  3. you introduced your poem @ BTP by wondering if you got to the “sound part” of the prompt and i want to say i think it sounds like this: vibrant! the words you chose collectively give this a brightness of sound. good work!

  4. sorry, uma! you didn’t introduce your poem that way (the circus goer after you did) but my comment about vibrancy and brightness goes with your poem. wonderful!

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