I’ll tell you, Megan, what I remember:
Flesh and fire. Puddles of pain.
The smell of roasted lamb. Hot grains
of chilli rice like little embers
burning in my throat. Human bird-song,
lullabies with all the words wrong.
Lavender smoke, a candlelight blur.
A hand I wanted to kiss. The feel
of cotton pillows, alpaca furs.
A bitter, alcoholic drink.
A smooth round face of grave appeal
with soft brown eyes (they made me think
of mother’s). Jasmine scents and squeaky
nasal laughter. Rain. A leaky
roof with water dripping near.
A voice – my own – I couldn’t quite hear.
And music playing. And happy dreams.
And once, still sunk in fog, I swear
I felt a rush, a flush of air
upon my face. A bird, it seems,
had swooped nearby. And when I heard
it – “Cree!” – I recognised that word.
At first Sayeed, with cheerful eyes
and moustache-gabled grin, would try
to sooth my senses, stabilise
‘Now doesn’t that feel nice?’
he’d ask, massaging my legs, while I
– in agonising paradise –
attempted to reply: ‘Let go.’
But later: A sort of seraglio
of sweeter voices, softer hands,
more beautiful skin, more lusciously tanned.
And later still…I fell in love – fell, not in a pining,
divining manner. Not with a person,
in fact; but literally immersed in
love, I was, as though reclining
in a sumptuous bath of honey or wine.
But slowly sensations began to define
themselves. My eyes caught hold of shapes
and didn’t let go; so too my mind,
— my being! — in struggling to escape
oblivion’s swamp, held tight some root
of thought, some length of verbal vine
to pull itself free.
‘That sound…a flute?’
I asked Sayeed. ‘And who – who’s this
At which he gave her a kiss.
The woman smiled. He gave her another.
‘My Lord,” he said. ‘Please meet my mother.’
Ovoid-shaped and shawl-encased
(an orange pushmina), vibrant-eyed,
with little frowning grin that pried
apart an over-leavened face,
this queer old lady sat on the floor
beside my cot. A moment before,
Sayeed had embraced her. She patted her thighs.
He rested his head there.
‘She knows the kind
of man you are, my Lord. How wise
you are.’ He gazed up at a trembling
sheet-metal roof. “She says you remind
her of my father – not resembling
him physically, not at all (he was
obese and short), but rather because
of your beliefs, your independence,
your constant yearning for transcendence.’
A curtain parted. A dark shape entered.
It balanced hot soup, a cup of cream,
upon a platter plumed with steam.
Our speaking seemed to disorient her
— her, I say, for show me a man
whose figure forms such draping span
from head to toe. And, too, I say
disoriented, as phantom-suited,
she froze in place.
‘Is it okay?’
Sayeed addressed his mother. ‘Sviv
His mother, with a muted
head-tilt, smiled affirmative.
‘Udalit yego,’ Sayeed commanded.
At this, the platter slowly landed
beside me; and with it, consequent,
the hooded figure approached, and bent,
and stayed a moment near me, and placed
a hand upon my forehead. At first,
her eyes could not be seen, immersed
within that veiled, unvaried space.
But as it neared – this shadow-flesh
that smelled of primrose – a narrow mesh
appeared above a hollow, as though
the gaslight’s glow had brushed aside
a surface layer of pitch to show
what lived beneath. Touched by the lamp,
this patch of darkness liquefied,
a dreadful, deep internal damp,
as when a patient is prepared
with sheets, just one wet hollow square
to let the surgeon’s hands embark
upon their mission — but dark, so dark!
And this, this sheeted creature stared
at me, alive – she lived! – despite
that cavity (unsettling sight!),
which cleaved her head and bared,
it seemed, her moistened brain — or more,
her very life. And even before
she looked to Sayeed (who now was seated
beside his nodding mother), then shifted
to me again (Sayeed repeated,
‘Udalit yego’), even before
she slowly – O slowly, reader! – lifted
her garb and let the lamp explore
her skin, the feeble light exposed
the fabric’s folds – and, too, disclosed
amidst the dark a vivid blue.
And then, of course, I knew. I knew.
More Tuesday Poems at Tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.