When is a woman like a tree? Very often, if one were to consider Nina Bhatt’s poems, but perhaps most gloriously in ‘Ode to Clitoria Ternatea’, the creeper christened ‘without shame’. The poem sets out complicating the very act of naming by establishing the tradition firmly in the ‘quill pens / of botanists (these men)’. I’ve always found — like most writers — the act of naming deeply political. To name is more than to identify; it is to categorize, to contain, to define. So when I first read this poem I was taken by Bhatt’s casual suggestion of how (male) scientists have, once again, imposed a very male worldview on nature.

The poem could have stopped there — it is already dealing with a big idea on a small page. But Bhatt goes on to break the associations of the name and establish how the creeper is more than its name. The poem could have once again ended here — it has argued its point. Except Bhatt loops her way back, through mythology, through pop culture, through everyday rituals, now bringing the female body centerstage, in celebration of sexual desire. It is a heady poem, structurally flowing through short cascading lines. The only problem, dear reader? It leaves me no space to talk about Bhatt’s other two poems, also thematic siblings in this series. These discoveries are yours to make.

— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Ode to Clitoria ternatea

Clitoria come to us
From the age of quill pens,
Of botanists (these men)
Who scratched their beards
And christened the creepers without shame

So much more to you
Than the name
But in it what’s in it,
And in it
Much to celebrate

An innocence
A hiding in plain sight
Now did I hear right
Or did you
Just whisper as in
Victoria with a G-spot

Distant cousin of pea,
Of the family Fabonaceae
Corolla a curio in turquoise,
If a shallow bedpan
Can be heirloom
Or a jacuzzi for a bee

Oh to be
A gentian yoni
A blossoming of gentian yonis
Sort of vagina monologues
Seen through a film
Of ultra-violet

The hue heavy
An indigo thumbprint,
Un-lettered you may be
But so all-knowing
Sowing, self-attesting
A tenderness for rainy mornings

A slender vine
Who must twist and twine
Over boundary walls
Or barbed wires
Spilling ink
In a wink to street art

In the wilderness
In the suburbs
Where yonis bloom
There He lurks
Blue throat muffled
By a mottled cobra

Third eye a-glint
As the good wife hurries
Into her backyard
An empty thali in hand

What can she seek,
In Aparajito, bliss – or
In ephemeral- the unvanquished,
Perhaps only to keep
Desire’s halogen burning,
To please

To adorn
With a garland
Of fairy lights,
His lingam
His thingamajig.



Systematic Botanist Singing

Latin for both my loves and field lens, to swell minutiae to million times the common sense
No look a casual glance, perchance, no word a stone, all giant vines condensed
Each yes a nod to witchcraft, acquiescence

All staring long and looking close and taking notes, all torture refined, then rhymed
Of octaves and sextets, the polypetalous carousels of calyxes, of sonnets
All Jazz

The pistils the stamen the stutter the stride the climax of cultivar
The tyranny of gene, the unbearable smugness
Of Darwin

To inherit the keys of the kingdom and the quick sands
Of analogy, to see nothing as a prophet in itself
To blasphemy

How to disarm the spiny how behead how collect
Press poison possess
How to unlock the girdles of bewilderment

To propose to experiment to test the strength, of lyric and ligament
To kneel, to touch, again and again, know pubescence
Learn everything, forget

Latin’s the language for moving on, all marriage
An endnote to explicate dreamings, to identify
The species of the serpent in the argument

Latin for laughter suppressed, such incredulous couplings
The binomials and threesomes of identity
A language for acquiring strange surnames

An excuse for undressing, then dressing, for plucking
The arrows, the wings, off cupid
Then crowing.



Cassia fistula

Laburnum wears only skin
Tussar silk on bruise green
Without stitch or seam or hem
Tight summer limb to limb
Laburnum’s out busting heat
Arms akimbo, leaning straight
Like some heron in a trance
Or a skater’s measured haste
Streets dilate to arctic lakes
Of scarved blowing scapes,
White light make cliff faces
Of multi-rizers and terraces,
Laburnum figures lonely on
Skirting craters, vaulting walls
Heart paced in an April world
Of dead leaf and yellow shrapnel.


Nina Bhatt
I write, paint, and make leaf compost as garden produce from my home in Baroda. My poems can be found in Wasafiri, The Caravan, The Hopper, Hakara, IQ, La.Lit, Antiserious.

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