ABECEDARIAN FOR MY FATHER’S CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
“The world is gone, I have to carry you.”
—Paul Celan, transl. by Pierre Jorris
ashes of paper flowers unfurling on the mud-flecked floor is a reminder.
brother’s circled photograph of him pressing a Chinese gun to his scrawny
chest & a beedi between his red-ecru lips is glued to a bamboo panel in the
dining shed. in the sole memory I have of him, he is kicking a green
elephant-apple mother grabbed from a talukdar’s yard for the kuchia
fish curry we demanded his eyes jujube-red like a setting sun of fagun
graceless, a wild horse that summer we saw an endless pit of rotting
human bodies in the school patio soggy fingers ringed by worms, brains
inching towards ashy gumminess, tongues serving silence, also history—
jeeps & bleeding rills are all we sketched as kids at midnight, from the stout
Krishnasuras we planted, we saw teachers & fathers hang like bats, heard
lamentations of Deudinis ricochet till the land was glossed with tar left
mothers as old as our burning wait for sovereignty to run into rivers regretted
naming tribal lovers after sunbirds whose bodies came home dressed in flies &
old mats. but, nobody no longer wants to remember it as it was: fields burning in
puerile blood, roots with cracked spines clutching memories, machetes stirring
quickly through embers of soiled girls in grey lipstick, fusty tresses of Bhogdoi—
right about dawn, we often heard meaty footsteps on the sward, saw figures
swaying to cries of silty egrets like weirs in monsoon, groping gracefully
through lavender-hued blinds of June showers— they begged me to
undo their braids and knife them, they spoke of Jonkie-Panei before I killed them,
veiling his throbbing boil of grief spoke my brother. and soon, he was gone.
winter’s mauve hours loosened its paling & he followed the rare cries of a baak.
xorais were offered for his return, so were rice beer & fresh pigs to unseen men
years later, nothing came but a photograph and a fisherman gesturing he is fine.
Ziro is where they last saw him, they say he pens a lot of sunbird songs to Dalimi.
Beedi: local cigarettes; Fagun: a month in the Hindu calendar; Krishnasura: Royal Poinciana; Deudini: a performer who worships gods through her dances in Bodo religious festivals; Bhogdoi: a tributary of the Brahmaputra in India; Jonkie-Panei: (Mishing folklore) two lovers who were killed by an angry mob for eloping against Panei’s father’s wishes; Baak: (Assamese folklore) a grotesque creature that inhabits ponds and rivers. After killing its prey, a Baak often takes the corpse’s appearance; Xorai: Bell-metal tray; Dalimi: close friend of Panei in the aforementioned folktale of Jonkie-Panei
Abhijit Sarmah is a poet and researcher of global indigenous writing, with particular focus on Native American women writers and literatures from Northeast India. His work is published or forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Chapter House Journal, The Albion Review, Glassworks Magazine, GASHER Journal, Rigorous Magazine, South 85 Journal, Sheila-Na-Gig Online, The Roadrunner Review and others. Follow him on Instagram: @abhijitsarmahwritespoetry
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