The Early Bird Poem: In the Times of the Quarantine

Away, away
Out of sight in a couple of fleeting moments
Then again, over the windowsill,
The serene, wise bird bodies,
Conspiring with soft murmurs and twittering’s.
So near the human wearing his name
Like a badge of shame, in quarantine hours,
Yet so far removed from his daily litany.

The Mother earth has had scores to settle with
The haywire humans, waking up, turning on the light,
As if they were all dreaming of white birds, hibernating
In kindred fear, just before the world
Broke open, in blood and apocalypse.
They break open the spell of the hoarse, deadly night,
The early birds, the crows and the sparrows,
The blackbirds and the thrush, their deep-throated music
Does not know the barefoot sound, the dark feverish death.

Away, away! Out of sight!
What if they saw us naked, fumbling in our rooms
With our frayed edges, desperately shielding our follies
Till the sun going down, faintly kissing the soft earth?

Away, away! They fly and form a curve against the slapping wind,
Tethered again to the black earth, the red earth, the changing, dying earth,
The early morning birds twitter on the windowsill
Greeting us, between tranquilized sleep and the barrenness of death.


Places You Can Find Love

My search for love
The language of lost want
Amid dwindling supplies.

Yet there are places you can find love
In sudden hungry flames, in ashes and bones.

In sudden sunlit dens,
In dark, superfluous corners,
Dream children float around, I quietly shut my eyes.

Yet there are places you can find love
In inarticulate car rides, amid provocations and violations.

You know the landscape of my nights by now,
The swallowing silence of my moments
Behind locked doors, when our words bleed our chards.

Yet there are places you can find love
In the pages of our familiar earth, I move around, awkward.

For ages, we have wandered amid remembered winds
Inhaling cities and skies and the places of our birth
Striving to find the moorings of our skin, the traces of our scars.

Yet there are places you can find love
You caress my sin, lost in liberation, when our dark bodies converge.


The karigar opens the lock gates of the body
Of a Goddess he has almost formed,
He lets me dab the brush with watered clay,
And I find my fingers swaying the brush
In the traffic intersections of the bosom,
The rib-cage, the dainty neck and the loins.
“You’re a mother, aren’t you?” The kaarigar says.
“Take my brush, the Mother Goddess I am making
will be complete with your touch…”
I look hither and thither, take the brush,
Try to invoke the sleepy troughs and crests of a figurine
That would soon enliven in some corner of the world
Exported as a Goddess with a name,
a special tithi to ritualize her presence.

In the nondescript alley, faces hide and come out,
jeering, loquacious, quiet, intimidating, bodies
With half-fed stomachs, runny noses,
pronounced rib cages, lack-luster hair.
Faces of infants latching on to their mothers’ emaciated breasts,
Faces of impatient sentinels, men, women and their offspring
Guarding mossy, crippled structures, brittle roofs
And stairs leading to the scum and openness of drenched streets.
Their homes, privy to many a starving night canopied with fragile sleep
and dense nonchalance. We roam around the precincts,
My over-enthused buddies and myself, our poetry, our cameras
and flashes, our clumsy fluttering mismatched with their primal wants.

In the glum streets, the heavy-breasted Durga, the poised Saraswati,
the indolent Shiva and the feisty, nude Kali, the pensive Shakuntala
become the flashes of lightning, the welcoming droplets of rain.
In between our urbane banter, the karigar and his almost formed
clay-Goddess, craving to be enlivened
The fullness of a ritual, a flickering, sensual truth,
A holy semblance of life sustained, holding on to its tattered edges.

*Kumortuli: A community in North Kolkata, in the east region of India where artisans craft idols mainly of the various Hindu Gods and Goddesses and also make statues

*Karigar: Artisan

*Tithi: A special date to worship a God/Goddess according to Hindu rituals

*Durga, Saraswati, Shiva, Kali: Hindu Gods/Goddesses

*Shakuntala: The wife of King Dushyant and mother of Bharat, a female character in the Indian epic Mahabharata

Indianness: The Metaphor of the Misfit

My Indianness is the bookmark of sweaty summer musk,
Tucked within the creases of a self-same, overused book
In the slice of space where memories of rickshaw-rides
And an old ghaat lay suspended in a remembered patch of air.

My Indianness is the honks of buses, yellow cabs and the odd stir
And jerky moves of local trains and subways in a jetlagged return
To another home, responding to a speck of reason.
The froth of my bangla catch-phrases, in unwarranted, white-infested places.

My Indianness is the shameless squirt of inabilities which makes me an oddity
In a land where new sojourns are embarked on,
New road turns are made, With pronounced insolence.
My Indianness is my scorching inferno, as I shuttle between safe-same chores.

My Indianness is my white wallet purchased from the dollar store,
The chain of it that opens up to reveal two pockets,
One carrying dollars in five, ten, the other, rupee notes saved
From auto-rickshaw rides, a fleeting whiff of homes and hearths, abandoned.

My Indianness is the everyday injury which I can’t bury always, safely.
The fervent flicker of memories, the occasional dents in the brain
Unfazed by changing colors, the blinding maze of lanes, by-lanes, highways
When all around me, the sweet lure of amnesia wins over others so easily.

My Indianness taunts me as I dream of houses moved in, in my slumber
Houses with cement stairs and the sparks of tube-light,
And crickets chirping outside large glass windows, covered with white blinds.
I hang on a thin rope, flanked by odorless comforts and dusky sorrows.

I write verses, stories on diaspora, my Indianness, a nameless brook
That craves to be one with a mighty river, a vain promise to dilute
Thick foams of whiplashes, onslaughts, residues of soot.
My Indianness is the perpetual rebellion, the telltale signs of embracing mess.

Ghaat: River-bank

Rickshaw: A vehicle used in India and some other Asian countries, a light, hooded vehicle resembling a three-wheeled bicycle, sometimes hand-pulled, having a seat for passengers behind the driver.

Bangla: Bengali, the Indic language spoken in Kolkata (India) and other parts of northeastern India and Bangladesh.

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. October 14, 2020

Lopa Banerjee is an author, poet, translator, editor with six books and four anthologies (fiction, poetry). She received the Journey Awards (First Place category winner) for her memoir ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’. She has also received the International Reuel Prize for Poetry (2017) and International Reuel Prize for her English translation of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s selected works of fiction (2016). She has been a featured poet at Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston and co-produced and acted in the poetry film ‘Kolkata Cocktail’. She has recently published her book of stories ‘All That Jazz & Other Pathbreaking Tales’.

Little Elm, TX

You can connect with Lopa on Facebook and Instagram!

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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