Second Skin: Poetry on Photo Prompt

Note: ‘Second Skin’, the prose poem is one of the winning poems based on a photo prompt contest hosted by the vibrant literature group in Facebook, The Significant League. The photograph, a seething document emphasizing on the crass and ruthless impacts of our urban civilization, had been taken and shared by the prolific Indian author, Dr. Santosh Bakaya. 

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What is the road made of, when we wait, deep, eager, in the tail-end of its sooty flesh?

The dirt is our pixie dust, the molecules of our tainted breaths traipsing with the smoke, swirling in the summer of smells. For ages, we wait, in the clogged pores of the city streets, clenching our calloused fists, our crooked teeth.

The streets become our cradles, rocking us in its high-pitched sopranos. We know the glittering place where the horns screech and trample the silence of our waiting, a waiting with its high and low notes, a waiting in its repetitive rhythms.

A waiting which becomes a clenched metaphor, telling our tale of rags and our smudged brown skins, our soiled faces that slap you hard, slap your conceited words, your vanilla-scented clothes, your practiced complacency.

Ah, this street now, at some uncertain end of the labyrinthine maze, stares in our faces. We flop down, inhale the putrid air, soaked with stories like that of ours, stashed away, nonchalant.
This street now, our second skin, is the rhetoric of our unnamed home as we slip into its monstrous bed, sucking full throttle, from its blackened, emaciated nipples.

Hey baby, suck on, why worry when the earth’s crust is but an unzipped black pit, an ashen pasture when you can roll around in the dirt and lick its fevered heat, running your little fingers over it when the blackness bleeds?

Hey baby, clap, clap, clap in your silver swirl as the thumping in our chests turn into a rhythmic chanting. Let our black foams squashed under the car tires be the thick wash of blood between all things terribly shiny and white.

Let them stop in their tracks for once, in their white skins and made up hair, grabbing the flesh of this cul-de-sac where we now squat, sculpting the pathos, the bare-boned poetry of the city street.

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. March 3, 2017.

P.S. The other winners of this contest are Geethanjali Dillip, Bhuvaneshwari Shivkumar Sharma, Fatima Afshan and Rahul Ahuja.

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SHE: Draupadi and The Every Woman

Draupadi

Draupadi. 

Image source: mahabharata.wikia.com

I am a phenomenal woman.

I’ve let you drown in the chocolate sea of my visual beauty, 

In the mystic mystery of my lips, my cleavage, my deep dark tresses. 

You have reveled in my flesh, and never knew my blood, tears and sweat.

You revel in the glories of the orient, the magnitude of epics in the east

Remember the glorifying times some four thousand years back,

When the Veda and other scriptures were snatched away from our hands;

When Hindu purists dictated which women would veil their faces within locked bars

And doors of what they called their ‘home’, and which others would spread out

Their blossoming bodies in temples as ‘Devdasis’ (God’s own concubines).

We have been given away, sold and abandoned at the dictates

Of these purists who have been fathers, Lords, husbands and sons. 

I was born, in Panchal, bereft of a mother’s Yoni,

Emerging from burning contours of fire,

The river of my body ran and ran, meandering,

Eyes to cheeks, cheeks to chin, chin to my swan neck,

Nativity singing thigh-deep in the river that struggled

To stay still. I am the mighty, yet helpless Yaagyaseni,

The lilac, dark and earthy, my hair, a nocturnal flower,

Deep, dark tresses canopying male thirst, 

Consecrated with the color of Dushshaashan’s blood. 

A sloka in the epic Mahabharata says: 

“Na stree swatantramarhati” (a woman has no right to freedom in her life).

After epochs, I still contain the poison ivy and wrath of Draupadi, Panchali, 

Daughter to the king of Panchal, wife and mistress to five able,  

Masculine husbands, the Pandavas.

My five husbands, besotted by my suffocating beauty and aura,

Shared my breathtaking youth as easily as they shared alms in exile.

None looked at the gashes of my heart, while I ached behind the silent veil 

For my love, Arjuna. He had his shameless share of Chitrangada, 

Subhadra, and his countless other consorts, yet in the bed,

His dark, formless masculinity was coiled around me. 

Like an orchid, like a creeper tree, I had to strive for shelter, 

Wrestling with my mind, as I shifted beds and desires between my Lords, 

As my womb bore children by my Lords, who desired me,

As I embraced strange silence when rendered a mere pawn 

At the gambling table by my eldest Lord, Yudhisthira.

And even as I was being disrobed at the royal court of the Kauravas.

The great assembly of people present there knew I was bereft of honor

In spite of my five husbands; bereft of respect in spite of my sons,

Bereft of joy or victory in spite of being a queen.

Legend has it that the volcanic Draupadi reduced her enemies to the ashes.

What could I do with the lifeless jewel and empty crown 

In an epic that discards me repeatedly?

For all my strength and spirit, valor and virtue, 

I am at the receiving end of suffering and disgrace

In an epic written and dictated by men.

The Voice of the Every Woman:

I have been a ‘female’, a ‘meyechhele’, an ‘aurat’, a ‘jenana’

 For eons and centuries now. 

A crushed and broken leaf, my virginity, a looming deadline,

Prodding, pricking, I breathe in its burning sulfur, 

The flame gets lost, drenched in the night’s rain. 

I am the unfathomable silence and the sanctity put to test

Stroked, palmed, heated, cooled, tampered, a zillion times,

Smoldering in the scars and beauty marks, the fire dwindling,

Down to its finishing embers. I am the ink and the muse

The Gajagamini, the slow, resilient steps of the elephant, 

The unhurried dance and the wellspring of secret music

That inspires paintings, tapestries and lyrics. I am 

The scattered pieces of Draupadi, waist to breast, neck to lips

In blood as I walk down the steady flame, the apocalypse 

Where the scourging fire, the hungry flame threatens, screams

And dies down, my wounds, festering, adorning me.

My story is a memoir of the salt and pepper, the yin and yang 

Of domesticity. My story is the story of my ancestors, 

My journey, a broad spiritual legacy. 

Here, in your hands that I clench tight, my lover, my husband,

My father, my son, my friend, my poet, my artist and my ravager, 

I give you the knife to peel off my skin, one slice at a time, 

To crush my rib cage and cut open the pool gushing, the heart,

Red, volatile, hollow, one that you may have never dived. 

I feel sanctity in the blood drops, in my clogged pores, 

My arteries and veins, breaking free of relentless femininity.

I am the phenomenal woman. I thus rise 

Above darkness, deception, decay in a new thrust of life.

—————————————————————————————————————

Note: This poetic narrative, first published in B’khush.com, is dedicated to all my women friends across the globe, just before the occasion of the International Women’s day in March 8. The piece is developed from an excerpt of my book-length memoir ‘Thwarted Escape’ which has recently been a finalist and a First Place Category winner at the Journey Awards 2014 for Narrative Nonfiction hosted by Chanticleer Reviews.

 

Take Me In

The November smog, fluid, ethereal, stings in my eyes. I drift again, from one nook of the city to the next as my eyes browse through the burnt hedges, shrubs and trees; it’s time to rebuild from the leftover pencils and brushes of my messed up, old days. I take in the haunting smell of homecoming as I soak in the toxic chlorophyll, trudging past the traffic lights as smoke rolls through my tongue….I know as I move around in deeper shades, the nape of my neck hurts, this nocturnal photosynthesis tosses me up again, root to branch…the smudged moon sinks yet again, dusk to night, night to dawn, breathing heavy, in its sniffed grains of light. I flop down beside her, my whispers broken, my voice hovering from across the void. I sway, holding my clothes, under my clothes, my ribs and bones, my veins and tendrils dance in the smog.

Many moons back, on yet another November day in your city, I had waited, heavy and slow, I had been twisted and turned over and over until the wait became a cursed game. Today, as I come back to those ashen fringes, I lean over your rickety balcony, rehashing those lost, jinxed words as I gobble up old Sundays, smell the old clouds, before holding them tight. I burn, like incense, into your skin, flying through the arid air, chasing after the smog and lost colors, descending, slowly waning, melting into you.

Do take me in, dear Kolkata…

Sincerely, Yours: A Prose-Poem

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“my black mane, the dark pool of my eyes, my wet soul have been at your arms’ reach”. Image source: bestmodernpaintings.blogspot.com

I know you don’t look out for me in the slender, silent daylight peeping through the window of my room, where I have walked around, barefoot, flinging my wistful nets around you, always. I have never estranged you, nor did I lose myself, nor did I ever tell you to seek me, bang at my window, find my name amid lush letters of smoke.

I have always been moored in the morsels of your hunger, in the water of your thirst, in the nocturnal flower of your bed. When you have stretched out your arms, my black mane, the dark pool of my eyes, my wet soul have been at your arms’ reach, waiting to be summoned, kissed, chased, tied, untied, forgotten.

I have always been there, floating around the arid air in your caverns of want, tracing the tracts of you, headlong, as I hover around the night sky, awake, the old roads of my body shimmering in stardust.

I am the whispering, inaudible song in the wind, the earthy odor of tears trickling, when you rest, lavish and carefree, in your cherished kingdom.
I am the sticky, stale rice as you gorge on the domesticated butter, writing on the pale story of the day with the pitch-dark ink of the night,
and think of writing more, in a language where sounds lose themselves, often.

I am the bird which never dares to hop and jump, rather crosses over, silently, the drunken boat, which waits, at the edge of the river, strange, tender, aching.

© July 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Lopa Banerjee.

‘The Femme Fatale’: a Prose-Poem

fire

Image source: Burning heart. searchpp.com

 

She shuddered, screamed, gorging up in flames
Stumbled upon her own shadow,
The black clouds of despair.
The flames devoured her, burnt sienna,
The vapor and choking odor of fire
And crushed desires. The bathroom door creaked,
The smell of flesh and skin, tattered, lost, the tears
Sliding up and down the labyrinth of pain,
She kicked the door, pushed her face, flickering
Towards the window, she had known the futility
Of this scream, this rush to live, on the verge of surrender.
“Help, help, I want to live”, ‘for one last time,
I want to live”, the thick fog of men, and women,
Family, neighbors, sliding around, contemplating,
Inch by inch, witnessed a devouring, broke open
The door, the charred flesh recoiled, stockpiled against
Their ceaseless inquiries. “Why did she do this?”
A hunched, elderly lady frowned. “How could she do this?”
A middle-aged housewife cried out. “Let’s rush to the hospital.
We may still have chance. Maybe the doctors can save the baby still.”
Her young son said; he flung his arms around the body in smoke,
Others poured buckets of water, to pacify the flames.
In the narrow front porch, where the queries and smells
Of the smoke reiterated in fragmented bursts,
Her toddler son of three chortled as he caught ants and frolicked
With the stray dogs. The child was searching for
His first learnt words, hashing and rehashing,
“Mother, mother, Maa, my Maa”. They took her away,
The world came around him in a maze, haunting, deep, dark,
Implausible, like his newly learnt words, pauses, phrases.

The flesh surrendered, slipped into an infinite void.
Inside the latched door of a surgical ward, doctors struggled
To evacuate a charred human fetus from a fire consumed womb.
The girl fetus had a blue tinge of sky in her furrowed forehead,
Her silken hair, tousled, smoked, mirrored her mother’s,
She gripped her fading earth, her last breaths, hanging loose,
Interspersed with her mother’s last, dying embers.
The earth didn’t shatter with this half-baked tragic tale,
She was a femme fatale, after all,
And the girl breathing inside her would trail after her,
For sure….words splashed along, riding in waves,
Waxing and waning, the neighborhood lapped up the waves.

In a household of ten people, a husband, and his kith and kin,
Each a furious, complaining drone, her tears regenerated each night.
Her kitchen chores, her fasts, and religious obeisance,
The cups of tea she made, her humming presence, a threat to
The sound and fury of their thundering voices.
At twenty four, married, with a toddler son, in a family
Of patriarchs grumbling, and well-meaning matriarchs
Looming above her, she gulped spoonful’s of their want
Gagged, clenched her lips, serving up hot dinners.
Nostalgia, music, books and old friends, emaciated memories
Forlorn, burning through the night sky.
The husband would come to her, grope her in between
Frantic, long distance office trips. Their love whispered,
Rolled around, surreptitiously,
A grey, forbidden piece of fabric.
She was the unexpected gust of wind, flinging her presence
Too fast, a witch, ensnaring their son, their brother
With her furtive eyes, her thick curls, her frail melodies.
In months and years, the magic potion they whispered
In his ears, worked. She was truly a witch, slapped, snapped
Drugged into silence; the words he spoke to her,
Transformed to a darkening quiet.
She had hidden the torn, dead skin of her nightmares,
She smiled, sang lilting love songs in the terrace,
Hugged the coconut tree, its leaves canopying her afternoons.
In a terrace right across, a wistful young man had played his flute.
All day, she chased her truant toddler, a kite in the verdant air
In the afternoon, the young neighbor held in his arms
The chuckling child, fluttered their wings together.
In the terrace, their surreptitious glances floated
In clusters of poetry, the shades of her desire,
Scarlet, bronze, earthen, pastel, unveiled in the untimely rain.
The flutist and the poet caressed her scars,
Their glances intersected often at the tulsi plant,
The courtyard, the porch and the neighboring pond.
His blood had boiled as he had clasped her papery wrists
One night, taking in the last drops of monsoon; he urged her
To take along her sleeping toddler, elope with him.
Her ornate vermilion has smudged, she looked in his eyes
In tarnished stupor, for one last time, and then, a bang
In her head, followed by vehement kicks and curses.
In the dark crevices of her womb, a sapling had breathed,
Rustled, moved and drifted, the dwindling promise
Of a tainted embrace.
“This kultaa, this dreadful promiscuous woman has brought
Shame to us, opened the door to hell. She’d better be
Off our sight”, they hissed to her at night.
One by one, they paraded in the room, their footsteps,
Dense, their sounds, menacingly cold. “We want the child
Ripped apart, finished by tomorrow, and this, our final word!”
The bathroom door latched the next morning, the fire
And the flames draped her like a quilt.
Red, withering, flickering, lapped up by the embers,
While her breath choked, for the last few fragmented moments,
She screamed to live, while the sapling inside her
Wiggled, fluttered, withered, burned.
For years, the neighborhood hummed this half-baked tragic tale,
She was a femme fatale, after all,
And the girl breathing inside her would have trailed after her,
If she had been alive, for sure.

Note: Based on real life stories, interspersed with some fictional elements, dedicated to the beautiful lives of women in India, nipped in the bud.

Still With Me: A Refrain in the Form of a Single Sentence Essay

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Sojourner

Experimenting with form and structure in Creative Nonfiction can manifest itself in many unique shapes and forms. Take a thought, a particular image that strikes and resonates, and keep expanding it till it looks like a long drawn sentence. What if the sentence, along with the particular image/idea becomes a short essay? It would have never occurred to me as something remotely possible if I had not attended a particular essay workshop where the idea of a single sentence essay was being illustrated. Inspired by the idea, I had written a single sentence short essay ‘Still With Me’ which had later been published in Ampersand Review, a literary journal in Fall 2010.

To me, it looks like a refrain more than an essay, a refrain in broken arms, wounded feet and bleeding palms.

“Every night, you come back to my arms in a sweet surrender; together we weep crystal tears buried in shadows deep as you take me back to the sweaty jostle of clumsy streets wrapped around you, the crescent moon that stands up on your sky bleeding not the red of blood; but the lonely hues of gray that travel the world of the living, the emaciated, neglected brooks and streams that still flow on your way, burying our unspoken words in their darkest waters, the haunting lullabies of my childhood slumber that wander endlessly in the faraway winds, the mistake and redemption of my yesteryears lying in their graves along with the greatest ashes of our shared wounds, the smothering morning mist and the secret moonlight that used to gush through your darkened rooms at the edge of my sleep, the crimson lights that used to flash your lanes, which soon used to grow brutal and blinding, the raindrops that used to pelt on your window panes, the storms that raged within your secret, unknown, unnoticed nooks and corners; and today, traveling through the mists of time, as I remind myself of your darkened rooms, as I try to search for long-lost words and stolen memories buried in your walls which visit my lonely mind, as I hear the echo of the sighing music of your rooms, your staircases, your walls, which seem like whispers uttered in naked air, stirring the darkness with wispy winds as I walk through your doors; I walk right in, through the blinding haze of day and night, a traveler of time seeking a pound of solace in the taste of your world beyond a dream; heaving with a heart that harbors dark alleys of a life walled by silent tears, waiting for you, my long-forgotten home, in the eager darkness of return.”

To know more about Ampersand Review, the literary journal and to read more of their fiction, poetry and nonfiction works, you may visit their page:

http://ampersandreview.com/home/