Khusbhu

uses her spare hand to dig into the open sugar sack
(which is pulsating with jungle ants) and catapults a spoonful

into the pan over the fire. Her other hand, though,
is fumbling, (as it often does when she talks these days,)

while she re-lives secrets: wedging a chair beneath the door handle,
stealing offerings of orange slices out of Lord Shiva’s hand,

tugging the gold watch from the dead man’s wrist,
shielding her face from the everyday this-and-that.

The ants whine and pop in the boiling water.
The night Khusbhu’s brother was born her father crowed

with a new voice and sloshed raksi into a jug
while Khusbhu watched (with her head on one side)

the body of a headless goat spray and jerk on the kitchen floor.
The night Khusbhu was born, (she was told,) her father spat

from the doorway and re-tethered the goat for a better occasion.
Some girls are written on             smoothed over            written on

like a foreign beach. Khusbhu is stretched like a taught night sky,
.            empty             unreached            no map of stars

through her skin and sinew. Her brother sleeps with his back to her.
White is for widows but Khusbhu wears it like an everyday colour.

Midnight is for all the unknowns to be feared in the darkness,
but Khusbhu lives deep inside it like the grip of her future husband.

 

Butterfly Dowry

It was tempting fate to name their daughter butterfly.
The Terai does not allow these types of flights and freedoms,
not this particular kind of freedom, not these particular wings.
It’s not so surprising to me that she cuts her own hair

with a khukuri blade, laughs with her mouth wide open,
strips fruit from the stone with her teeth,
rides her bike standing up and with boys
from the untouchable castes and with boys

from the elephant stable and boys
with alcoholic fathers and it was a smart move,
I thought, when she waded into the Narayani river
to kiss the drunk fisherman on his birthday.

She had seen the photos of the 19-year-old bride
in the civic hospital, posed the way an obedient wife
should with her fingers tucked under her chin
and her hospital gown pulled up to show the tight convex

of her pregnant belly littered with cigarette burns.
She was only quoted as saying: if it had been so very important
for her to bring a cow buffalo, then her husband
should have married a cow Buffalo and had done with it.

A butterfly knows that it’s better to be netted and sold
at the roadside in uncertain weather with garlands,
already past their best                        better that
than to be worth ten lakh, five acres of tobacco farm,

and a new timber house with a new timber door
where a butterfly can be magazine-smacked against
the window by a squeamish in-law or nailed
to the timber doorframe and her wings plucked off.

 

Harvest during the Blockade

A hasiya blade, grass-wet and through my belt loop,
nagging on the weak jut of my hip bone

until I twist it around, horizontal, a little boy
carrying a fishing rod, but it’s point is aimed at my wrist now

so I try it through the waistband of my pants, like a trophy,
but its sickle edge threatens me terribly as I bend down

so finally I sling it over my shoulder like a shotgun
where it bumps and knocks and pulls threads from my shirt.

I turn it over in my hands and it’s the weight of a country,
Its edge the curve of the Earth that nobody taught me to hold.

I look across the field at you with your scarf knotted around
your waist and your middle tight with all the different knives.

You, too, have become too sharp for words,
so dangerously heavy it’s hard to believe I ever held you.

 

The Waiting Village

August: biking to the temple to offer mukhi beads and beg Surya for the sunlight.
Have you ever seen your mother hold aloft a bribe like that, dangle the sunlight?

See the slump of millet plants, leaning bicycles, the oxen preserving themselves.
There is weariness in the angle of everything: the goatherd’s back, the slope of sunlight.

You bring home a sack of oranges, each one bulging and malignant with disease.
The bag has cut lines in your shoulder. You drop it and it spills a little, trailing sunlight.

From my hammock I watch you fishing at night. You pray, cast your line
through the silence and awaken the river. You plunge your hook through sunlight.

Shristi leans against me, her voice hot in my ear. They say you swam like a boy
in the Rapti, and wearing no dress. Is it true that your skin is see-through like sunlight?

When you speak in a different tongue of Tharu or too fast on purpose, I watch for cracks
that might let me sneak in. I reach for a word. I snap it, and it oozes sunlight.

We conceal the smell of weed-smoke with anything: achiote powder, garlic,
the summer rainfall. We search for perfume in a waiting storm, a shift in weather, sunlight.

Please, stop trying to wander off the edge of the world. Unpack, sit with me. Let’s talk
about how all of it will look in the end. How the colours will seem different in sunlight.

 

Between these Two Worlds

we’re forbidden from saying the word love of course
so I show it how the women have taught me –
with lemons and pilfered honeycomb
for your morning tea
your cigarette rolled on the saucer
dates left on the chopping board
a foot-long sugarcane pushed into your back pocket
spiced cashews saved on a high shelf

you show it differently –
stones at my window in the early morning
hand-written messages on dust and wet glass
a blanket brought to my hammock
which you rock and rock
while I pretend to read

we’re forbidden from saying the word love of course
but it’s pouring from us like sand from a shoe
when I’m late home and you’re a red-eyed mess
with my scarf bunched over your nose and mouth
you’re raging at me from the doorway

it’s showing itself more and more –
I’m scared someone will notice
your tongue split on all that sugar cane
the smear of your writing on the window pane
your gaze bunched up in my fist
the stamp of my mouth on your collarbone

pieces of us existing in each other

we’re forbidden from saying the word love of course
but there it is –
stifled the air between us
shy in this universe
un-named
but written through and through and through
in at least two languages and learnt by heart
a poem            a map            a constellation
inked with all the secrets
of how to run through the darkness
between these two worlds
and find our way home

 

Eleanor Walsh

Eleanor Walsh

Eleanor Walsh attended Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia where she studied English, and she later completed her MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University in the UK. She is now in Nepal on a doctoral research where she studies oral literature from low-caste communities in the Terai – a place where she draws much inspiration for her own poetry. The Nepalese villagers teach her how to harvest rice and often tell her to lighten up.

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