Editor's Note

In this set of poems by Ravneet Bawa, the ordinary of everyday life —an algebra test, a pigeon on a ledge, a lost Airbnb key— becomes a gateway to discovery, connection, and insight. I loved the quiet humour of these poems as well as the emotional breadth they capture. Read these poems for the gentle lingering in a world past identity and easy categories, a world of connection with the human and the non-human, and the empathy for which so many of us turn to poetry.

— Aditi Rao
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Loose Women

 

.      for Alice Nolastname

 

It is always like this. Like glass marbles, women leave home

change inertia into momentum. And go places. In distant corners they strike

another fleeing marble, a wee magnetic moment, they slow, then they go.

 

In the square of St. Giles, beside a pigeon pooped Adam Smith

on the fifth floor landing, outside my rented b&b – I stand

perturbed. With bags I hauled

full of things I won’t need. I hear her

climbing climbing climbing climbing climbing.

 

She was smoking outside when I came through the hallway.

“No elevator. Morning yoga”, she pants. I nod.

We meet at the top of the stairs.

 

An approaching autumn, light as light. I tell her I can’t find

the keys; I am waiting for the host to call. She settles

on the top stair. Removes her coat. I let go of the bags.

What begins as a search for keys

unravels all our locks.

 

Sixty four. Renting the flat across. From Mason, Ohio. To me – “And you?”

I tell her – “From London.

Not from there, but here in Edinburgh, I had come from London.”

She smiles at my immigrant identity issues.

She bloomed-married-mothered-aged in the one town.

My peripatetic parents took their Omni sixty thousand miles and drove

each other mad.

 

Home is both a moving target and a study

in pitching. Belonging is business.

 

She votes Trump. I vote independent. We both like walls.

She says they separate. I say they hold.

We meet at the top of the stairs.

 

“Forty years I have been married. He will be eighty-two next Easter.

At the care home, they made me sign right over where it said

…………………..

CAREGIVER. I signed up to be Wife, to this man I had loved!”

 

Like liquorice root marriage loses water, then

umami, then mass. Familiar but fallow. Shrivelled but shaman.

 

“Y’know, two years ago I slipped on the kitchen floor

new heels and all … broke my wrist. It took him an hour and thirty

to get dressed. To drive me to the ER. When we returned he called

his sister. To her he said – You know me Darlene, I was out of the door

like an arrow!”. We laugh.

 

“Like an arrow Alzheimers took him.”

We cry.

We meet at the top of the stairs.

 

On the mezzanine landing the skylight lets in the setting

sun – rays aslant at our feet. Right here, the ruby

red carpet has faded

to a simmering scarlet. She says, “This

is how we know.” I look at her. She says, “This

this is how we know

 

it has had its share of light.” We bring out

the wine. We kick off our shoes.

We meet at the top of the stairs.

 


 

Algebra

 

It is impossible to imagine Maths teachers happy, or working with grinders

in kitchens. Someone who likes quadratic equations, could not

possibly knit mittens.

 

When Ms. Mala joined our dusty township school, her frayed saree pleats

flopping over cobbled chappals, the boys snickered, “She is a widow”. “Look

no bindi”, whispered girls.

 

Every day I stared at the deep lines on her forehead, so final like a papaya

mask left on too long. Even as she laughed often, I searched her face

for grief.

 

How can you be happy, Ms. Mala? All you have is a dead

husband and the area of a trapezoid. My mother works from before dawn

to after light and surrenders to marital duty. But at least she teaches English.

 

I was sorry for her 1 BHK loneliness

.  -  ground floor

.  -  without garden

.  -  without attic

Where must all her rage and gloom go

after the end term papers have been marked?

 

My name rises through her draughty throat. I walk to her desk.

In a big red circle I see ninety-nine and a half on the hundred. My eyes

sting. She says, “Never forget – there are two square roots of 4

+2 and -2.”

 


 

Sticky Feet

 

This morning I pulled the curtain aside to let in     the smoky mandarin dawn.

The beginning is always daunting                               endless

without promise of a close.

Like the life of a squab that falls out of a drainpipe nest

.                                                                         onto my window ledge.

Eyes still yolky, sticky feathers

The unhurried unravelling of life without warning   just out of my reach.

Twenty and four floors above the manicured grassy lawns

Was it destined for rescue or                       release?

 

To rescue from, is it not also a fettering to?

 

Later I returned with a bowl of water.

There was no pigeon.

Only                                      a slick path to the edge

Between certain death      and near certain death

It chose freedom.

All said and done life is      you on the edge      and      the gumption of the free fall.

The rest is only sticky feet and wet eyes.

Acknowledgments

Image credits:

© Didi van Frits [source]

Author | RAVNEET BAWA

Ravneet Bawa is a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics where she is studying consumer psychology. She has previously published poetry in The Bombay Literary Magazine, The Bombay Review, Asia Writes, DWL’s magazine Papercuts, Coldnoon, Literally Literary and Eksentrika. While she reads broadly, her favoured style is narrative poem and prose. She was shortlisted for the Poetry Society of India’s All India Poetry Competition 2016. She is the host of the conversational poetry podcast ‘Ellipsis’.

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