poetry picks

Five poems for a hungry August

The sixth in a monthly series of selected poetry on different themes.

Daal & Rice

Rajiv Mohabir

jira, laung, sarso, hardi, nimak: ego cup kesab ghiu mein bhujke, ho gail chounke
Pap invoked the gods of journey in mantra, tie you belt ke wuk, as he crossed the sea. Stuffing
burlap with mustard and Amazonia-hued grains, both Ma and he landed to mop Lutheran shit.
One starving whiteout December their sons frozethen shattered; stopped eating yellow with bare fingers.
’E na get chounk, how ’e go stay broung? hear Ajitalk. When I moved to New York at 25, I bought
10 lbs. of daal and basmati and slept aloneon the floor during my first ice storm. To keep warm
I boiled pots of water, stewed lentils intotrue love, a complete protein – something whole.
Cumin, clove, mustard, turmeric, one cup of salt, fried all in butter is how you mix the spices.

(The poem first appeared in Prairie Schooner.)


Pickling Season

Anju Makhija

Every summer, we laze under the mango tree
discussing unpatented recipes. When raw mangoes
drop on our head, we pause
to appreciate nature’s bounty.
Then on to peeling, chopping, salting,
boiling, spicing, bottling...

Will the sorcery work?

By year’s end, we hope, when
the pungent brine matures to its prime.
The zing depends on turmeric balancing the tamarind,
the chili complementing the amchur,
and if the asafoetida poured in candle light
late one night works for pickles
as it seldom does for couples, apart
since the first pickling season.

The alchemy has rarely bewitched,
jaggery sours, vinegar sears the tongue.
To change the recipe we’ve tried
with old ladies’ advice,
but nature moves inexorably,
and life proceeds predictably

beneath the mango tree.


Storming In Tea-Cups

Meena Kandasamy
“a cup of tea is not a cup of tea. . .
when you make it at twilight,
just for him.”

call it a love potion.
liquid dreams.
scented desire.
wishes boiled to a blend.

three cinnamon pods
the dried darjeeling leaves
milk and pearl-white cream
simmering to a syrup to be filtered.

as you sweat in its vapours
and imagine how the tea tastes
against his lips his teeth his tongue
and the pale pink insides of his throat

as you stir in the sugar
and test a spoonful to see
if it stings and soothes and
stimulates the way you intended

as you pour it into his cup
with eyes mirroring supernovas and
study the desirable brown of the tea

an entire shade
that fits exactly
between the desert sand of your skin
and the date palm of his.

almost the colour
of your possible child.


Chicken Roast

Malay Roychoudhury

Puff your plume in anger and fight, cock, delight the owner of the knife
smear sting with pollen and flap your wings
As I said: Twist both arms and force them to stoop
roll the rug and come down the terrace
after fragmented sleep
Shoes and boots – rifles – whirring bullets – shrieks –

The aged undertrial in the next cell weeps
and wants to go home
Free berate me...Let me go...Let me go home...
On its egg in the throne the gallinule doses
asphyxiate in the dark.
Fight back, cock, die and fight, shout with the dumb.

Glass splinters on the tongue – breast muscles quiver
Fishes open their gills and enfog water.
Apiece of finger wrapped in pink paper
With eyes covered someone wails in the jailhouse
I can’t make out if it’s a man or a woman

Put the eyelash on your left palm –
and blow it away with your breath
Make the snake’s hood fan out in mist
The cobra’s abdomen shivers in the hiss of feminine urination
Deport to crematorium stuffing blood-oozing nose
with cottonwool

Shoes brickbats and torn trousers litter the streets

I smear my feet with waves picked up from stormy sea
They form the alphabet I drew on for letters

(Translated by the poet from the Bengali poem Murgir Roast)


Well-Fed

Payal Talreja

This then is my history.

At the age of three
I discovered an appetite
for words.

I’d crunch them like candy
lick them like lollies
slurp them like soup
nibble them like nuts;
crunched, licked, slurped, nibbled
words assuaged hunger.

I’d roll them fat and juicy
on my salivating tongue.
Pucker my lips, on some.
Mouthed: chocolate. chalk.
Cheese, were equally tasty.

I hoarded my loot
avariciously, never sharing
poring secretly over
dictionaries; sorcerer’s
greedy apprentice.

Secretly slipping into my mouth
lush, silky sounds.
Over time, I found,
the more I devoured words
the more the words consumed me.


This selection is curated by Rohini Kejriwal. She also curates The Alipore Post, a daily newsletter stemming from a love of​ art, poetry, music, and all things beautiful.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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