What do C-sections, takhellei flowers and monolid brides have in common? Well, Linthoi Ningthoujam for one. And the energy of an unexpected metaphor, lifting the familiar to a place of the keenly felt. Ningthoujam suite of poems bears an undercurrent of violence: of land, of community, of body. We’re introduced right away in ‘Amnesia’ to the ‘sound of bullet / god stuck between teeth’. If that wasn’t startling enough, it is immediately followed by the everydayness of ‘takhellei blooming on the roadside’.
Forgetting plays a sutradhaar of sorts in Ningthoujam’s set. It is used as a weapon, as a coping mechanism, and sometimes an accusation. In ‘Postpartum’, for instance, the loneliness and grief of a new mother is neatly wrapped up with the speaker’s own mother remembering ‘only the scent / of baby soap / and the bald patch on my head’. Indeed, one of the reasons why this selection stood out for me is its inevitable weaving of the personal and the social. It is not all gloom and doom either. Forgotten histories rear their heads in inconvenient ways, yes, but Ningthoujam also holds hope close. I do not know whether the order of her poems was strategic, but it made all the difference that the last piece ends with kindness. And pumpkins. Yes, pumpkins. Make your way to them, dear reader.
— Pervin Saket
Poetry Editor, The Bombay Literary Magazine
The first time I saw someone being shot
was from our creaking balcony
It was exactly like the elders spoke of everyday
sound of bullet
god stuck between teeth
soul vaporizing from navel
takhellei blooming on the roadside
Close your eyes and bite on a plum
You will learn to forget
Such is the beauty of our land
There was a shutdown after
But rage travelled faster than regimes
perched on trees and hawked for the rain
until we remembered our dying harvest
until a woman in white arrived
and embroidered it on her khwangchet
A year after
when the sky unfurled its purple madness
the first rain sank into the children’s mud-house
we ran for red chillies drying on the tin roof
and the children played with the soul
who could never leave our amnesiac land
Between loneliness of breastfeeding and remedies for colic,
I am thinking of mothers across these hills;
their pagoda streets mutilated with poets and children
whose ironies or innocence could not save them from bullets.
I am thinking of grief in rivers
length of rope, sturdiness of chair, colour of fan
hatred in a cough and the soft murmur of a long-loved verse before death.
It is not strange that I have lost faith in poetry and children
or all forms of creations.
Outside this waxen window,
the hunched sky bears an orange
speak about anything, anything you want
and I stand mute.
How do I write being cut open—
the paralysing knowledge of
slow slicing of skin and layers of flesh.
The stitch has closed me up steadily;
I am no longer the lunacy of gnawing poetry
or the hibiscus song of prophetic mornings.
I am an off-word of engorged breasts and bleeding rectum
I do not have a name
sharpness of a newly-bought knife
tenderness of your child’s throat
punch yourself in the eye
tear out your hair
and still imagine
If I ask my mother, she says
she remembers only the scent
of baby soap
and the bald patch on my head.
Preparing for Winter
A pinch of winter arrived with the rain tonight
we congregated and discussed the five years gone by
set the price for each of us.
There is no ordinary citizen
only a circulation of currency
they pay you, you pay them
we are a thriving economy of opium in teacups
there is no proof though
everything could be photoshopped—
from daylight murders to monolid brides
[with the rain as witness, let us for once agree
we do not deserve this land]
at the end, we also confessed yongchaak from Moreh
is a betrayal to our palate
and remembered how we had forsaken the warmth
of burrowing seeds into our earth and fretted
over trees that had lost their will to grow.
When they return with spring
their frantic leaves generous against our futile days
spread open their soul, mock our lack of it
we will eat the fruit of our godlessness.
When all these are done, I want to seek simple things
like kindness that must have changed hands—
a basketful of taro roots
for two or three pumpkins
for the piercing winter
Linthoi Ningthoujam is from Imphal, Manipur. Her poems have appeared in Bengaluru Review, Kekru: An Anthology, and Witness: The Red River Book of Poetry of Dissent.