Three poems

Anirban Dam

2021

Turmeric

My mother is a shade of cinnamon,
probably less brittle. She wears bangles —
white, red — replaces them every five years.
They have traces of gold in them,

and grief. You can see them quiver
when she kneads, her wrists are hollow flutes
albeit clogged by dough and domesticity.

Veins, like inlets, coursing through her arm
converging at some point in her body
where everything turbulent settles down.

My mother is a pinch of turmeric,
probably less customary. She wears sarees —
red, white — buys one every year.
They are woven from yarns of silk,

and silence. You can hear the village
in her voice when she speaks.
Some days, she’s a lullaby
forgotten midway, some nights
she’s a drop of water rousing a pot of oil.

Last week, while cleaning the rasoi
she threw a fit because someone
had changed the canisters, as if
something within her had been pried open —
exposed, unwrapped

then went on to explain
how light can diminish shelf life,
how spices without a tight lid can
bother people with their presence.

*

Epidermis

At the grocery store, we are
crossing off items on our to-buy list.
In the organic section, my father
has now begun his quest for onions.

He takes one at a time, rotates it
in his hand to check for dents or deformities

I throw a couple in the basket
to expedite the process but
he quickly tosses them back in
the crate, says this one has a soft
shell and that one has severed roots.

It is both meticulous and somewhat mystical,
how he prods his thumb on their bodies
and just knows which ones will last the week.

At the billing counter, my father stands
somewhat content with his shopping cart.
Before us, is a lady with her little boy who
peeps over her shoulder. I smile at him and
he instantly buries his head in her shoulder.

As she puts her basket on the counter
my old man scoffs,
won’t even last a week
tells me the bell peppers
are already soft and wrinkled, the onions,
discoloured; hence, the thumb rule —
always check for soft spots.

The attendant bags the groceries,
my father hands his debit card,
and punches in his secret pin
his quivering hands, calloused and creased,
skin, hardened in a way that can never be peeled.

*

Yarn

A thread cannot be broken,
only torn
. You interrupt, in an attempt
to correct me, then underline the improbability
of certain verbs when translated
into a different language. For instance,
as a kid you would break a roti or tear a plate.

Likewise, breaking a thread would be like
tearing a dream, figurative and farfetched,
only possible in poems. The act of breaking
something requires muscle or misfortune,
enough to render it redundant.

Tearing on the other hand, is about strain
or stress, a scintilla adequate to rip you in shreds.

Across the table, a couple
is commemorating, a milestone perhaps.
The waiter, so aptly called, waits
knowing exactly what wine he’ll order,
how much they’ll eat,
how much they’ll post,
and later reminisce about an entrée
they have discontinued, as if it were
the origin of their affiliation.

So intriguing it is to witness
such a ritualistic disentanglement of sorts;
strands of hair, suits, sweaters,
fibres —
neither breaking,
nor tearing,
only coming apart at the seams.

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