Ma is afraid of water after dark.
Not the glass or jug, but the pumping station
Across the street.
Once she told me why.
When she was five,
Oruni, the village Huck Finn,
Who ran after ghosts and no book could catch up with her,
Oruni told my ma, goggle-eyed,
Sompawoti, the river behind their thatched houses,
Was getting married the next evening.
All the rivers would come,
Kopili, Bordoisila, Dibang, Disang, Kolong,
All the sisters of Brahmaputra would
Flow through their village!
It would rain and thunder,
So much fun.
Ma wonders if the water station
Keeps all those rivers, bottled
She can’t stand maps too, after dark
I haven’t the courage to ask her why
Elsewhere, armed men hunt
A college campus,
For traces of my skin.
It is me they cannot find,
In the trees, the air that surrounds
Us from all sides.
I offer flowers, in disguise. I am
Among them. The torches show the darkness
In their souls.
It is me they cannot find.
The same men once looked for my father, fleeing
Shouts and snarls. The same men
Who looked for his grandfather, in a cotton field so white,
It missed those flying shadows in the rain.
And now they look for me.
I whisper kindness to my baby, shh,
Hush, sleep tight, she lives in my arms.
It is me they cannot find.
The anger that glows in their throats, breathes coal fire.
The fire in my heart they cannot stand.
My eyes, they glimmer with flowers. Purple, dark red, black.
It is the flowers they try to shoot, tonight.
The Face of Evil
The face of evil is your uncle, Didhiti.
The same man, who makes wonderful tea in the evening
And talks wistfully about days long ago.
So taken in, you are, by the gathering,
After so long, you do not see it, how his thoughts snake
And what festers inside the bitter man.
The face of evil is your neighbour
Who asks, what is it you do, when you return late in the evening, who shouts
At those candles at Diwali, and buys weekly groceries from the wholesale market, just like you.
It is that elderly man
Who greets you every day in the park
And sometimes talks of a migraine, when he sees someone different
It is the man you vote for, the woman,
For they are quiet today, looking the other way,
While more important matters are being 'resolved'.
It is your colleague, and your boss, and your Thursday night friends
Who dream business and opportunity
At every second glance.
The face of evil is you, and me,
Hurrying through breakfast, struggling to board a train,
A tide comes out, a tide goes in.
It is the canny columnist who weighs a day more
Before writing his column
It is the leader who watches left, and then right, and then again…before saying anything
Evil does not always need to shout, Didhiti,
Once it is inside, like dust,
Our homes and lives, the television set, the smartphone.
Evil is then,
The morning shower,
It is breakfast
It is thought.
It is (nearly)….life…
No there must still be time
To find a way out of this, still time
To find time…to think about this.
Still time to share a cup of coffee
With that stranger, on the street, still time to
Be the stranger on the street.
But Didhiti, what about today, and what about now?
What about the faith we have lost in people?
What about the doors we keep locked today?
Reprinted from River Wedding by Amlanjyoti Goswami (India: Poetrywala, 2019) by the author’s permission. Available for sale in India and around the world.
Poetrywala has just published Amlanjyoti Goswami’s collection of poems, River Wedding. His poems have been published in India, Nepal, Hong Kong, the UK, USA, South Africa, Kenya and Germany, including the anthologies 40 under 40: An Anthology of Post Globalisation Poetry (Poetrywala) and A Change of Climate (Manchester Metropolitan University, Environmental Justice Foundation, and the University of Edinburgh). His poems have also appeared on street walls of Christchurch, exhibitions in Johannesburg, and buses in Philadelphia. He grew up in Guwahati, Assam, and lives in Delhi.