Sadness is a white crane on a white cow.
Only one can bear the weight of another.

Sadness is white sand on a river bank.
It is white even when wet.

Sadness is white hibiscus resting on a fence.
It has a white bud and a white corpse.

Sadness is a snow-covered tree, eyelashes of white.
Its branches droop with its own weight.

Sadness is a wild elephant’s tusk, sharp, a deposition of years.
It has beauty and grace only from a distance.

Sadness is the sclera, the screen from which hurt drips.
It washes itself, tinges red and becomes white again.

Sadness is a museum, pictures on white walls.
You leave it but it never leaves you.


‘Every Girl is Dinner’

(From Swati Moitra’s photograph of Vishwavidyalaya metro station at North Campus, Delhi University)

I passed through daughterhood
like a young goat crossing a highway –
one wrong step and I could be dead.
(Men, Baba said, were automobiles,
lust an accident, my body rush hour traffic.)

Before school hour, I sat like a sparrow
on a cow horn – destiny’s bisexual perch,
waiting for a companion
with whom I could take flight.
For that is the moral of sparrow life:
One for sorrow, Two for joy,
Three for letter, Four for boy.
(“Walk in groups, always”;
”Aekla chalo re is for men alone”.)

Sometimes I am chicken –
my legs, swollen from captivity, a delicacy.
I am a kilometre virgin,
never having tested the speed of my soul.
In neighbour’s curries, my feet cast no shadow.
I am a “good girl”, “nutritious” when stewed.

All my life, I’ve always been meat –
goat, sparrow, poultry;
my tongue eaten raw, like a bull’s;
my fingers giving a vegetable its name;
my body chopped into pieces for temple retail –
Puri, Kamamkhya, franchises of barbecue religion.
Ma Shakti: “Shakti Peeth” to “Shakti Mills”.

I hear the phrases tune their strings
in the fibrous appetite between teeth,
in the butcher’s bleeding blades.
The alliterations in a pair: rape and rage,
cannibal lust, carnivorous anger,
words, the world as slaughter house,
violence as scansion, violation as eating.
Woman as kebab, woman in a tandoor.

And I wait, a living carcass,
my life bullied into cold storage,
to surrender my meathood.



The window’s a quilt
I scratch with toes
in my finger-sleep.
Two men climb a coconut tree.
Their feet are tied with rope.
Coconut coir anklets scratch
their heels, pinch old bark.
They are a collage of waves
in my language-fever.
One climbs, the other slides –
gnashes of curiosity
on my amulet mind.

The bed’s a mat
I rub with grass-skin.
Their sole-touches
are flute-whispers
to my beggar ears.
I lie awake –
my childhood returns
wrapped in coconut,
a naked roar
under my tongue.

Wetness is a wave
that arrives on
webbed feet.
It turns me woman,
then a midnight corpse.
My breath is a blur
against the sea.
My secrets wash water.
The doctor is a ghost
who mends socks
by night and sells
crutches by day.

I want to move.
To the rhythm
of snakes
in crowded zoos,
to the temper
of planktons
in belching seas.
I want to move
to a wayfarer’s lust.
For lust comes
only in anarchy,
in a stranger’s shoes.

I am poor.
My marijuana limbs
are Crusoe’s island.
Nothing moves
except cannibal feet.
I wait for stranger ships,
for snail crawl,
for sparrow smoke,
for you, stranger.

Nothing moves
in my city, stranger,
nothing except lust.
For you stranger,
my legs are statues.
For you I’ve waited,
to make me move –
to turn me from
mountain to river,
scar to pus,
a toe-ring bell.

And you’ll look away,
just, just because
I can’t walk?
Because I haven’t
walked through wars?
Are legs all –
carrier of hunger?
Is stillness a plague?

String dancers’ eyes
on deer-tails for me,
make me ghungroos,
make me the wind
on a lantern’s tongue,
a plough on land,
lightning on a flag,
dew simmering in the sun,
make me a wound,
a rotting fruit
that moves as it dies.
make me a lie,
make me your heart,
make me move,
make me your lust.

Excerpted with permission from Out of Syllabus: Poems, Sumana Roy, Speaking Tiger.