Poems by Rochelle Potkar

 

Displaced

 

The fish fly in the night to become stars.

Trees hopscotch;

they knew when they dried – leaves wrinkling, the foliage thinning.

They gathered honey when the earth got angry

with wild wind knots in their women’s hair.

It was time for the rain to let down her tongue,

that she always kept in reserve.

 

They knew their forests by tigers, leopards, macaques, langurs,

hornbills, and cane turtles.

Their river was a lifeline on their palms.

 

They didn’t know how metal dragonflies could descend from sky.

The sky – as empty as a grieving mother’s chest.

And men came on cycles in shirts and trousers,

that everyone fled from.

 

They would build a dam here, pour concrete into waters.

Some days the sea ran into the old sweet river,

spiraling green noxious that grew beside her.

 

They had to leave their cows.

They had new roots now,

under another mahua tree.

 

They got looms, but no roofs, and no thread.

When the rain broke her lip

their money evaporated like sweat.

 

Their poultry died of sickness.

Each road was an island

turning bare the walls of school, center, shop.

 

Some went into the mouths of the forest.

Some lay as still as mud.

Some left for city shanties.

And some like Kalu sat outside their homes

 

rowing a boat gently

over the new river

stopping right at its center.

 

There were no fish there,

where many, many feet below

his village, home, and fields still lay.

 

He talks of the past … haltingly.

 

 

Strange cities

 

remind us of a village with its doors open, resisting a bridge

noon siestas with no iron locks

a sea with fish but no postal code or hospital,

 

of a city on a rig in the Caspian sea – 120 kms of road, 

 

a town at the base of a volcano, where people lived with gas masks

 

or a ship-city that never left canal, with football fields

 

even dwarfs living in a pink tutus with a miniature police force, political system, fire brigade.

 

The walled city in Kowloon up-rooting from anarchy

not imploding on itself and

 

another city built on scrapes and salvage, with a

clock tower of garbage.

 

A town built around a conspiracy of a

devil’s statute at the gates holding holy water.

 

Make what you want to make of these,

as tourists flock like keep-savers,

 

A town in Brazil for only women,

started by a banished adulterous now encircled by rainforest,

its epicene dwellers not kissing a man

in years.

 

These strange kibbutz allowed flakes to flutter,

crossroads to move like sun dials, wheels to jive time

over bubble-wrappings of disharmonies,

chrysanthemum blurs of blueprints

 

like another city: Auroville

that doesn’t exchange money and has no sets of rules

 

with factories for cloud-making

 

giving us the notion

that strange people in strange cities

is a very normal thing.

 

The secret life of a roll

 

In rectangular wilts of tendu leaves

crushed in gold powder, thambhakoo appeased,

rolled by fingers of women and

children of chalk-dust fallacies.

 

Big Brother watching with hundred eyes

of a 40-crore industry

not all of them shut all the time,

baking in a furnace without a helmet.

One end of a thread tied,

tapping potent dust –

pension schemes of respiratory ailments.

Where does all the smoke go? All the tendrils?

 

Rejected beedis into the maker’s lap.

Sold, unbranded on the streets.

Gutka and low wages

competing in the market of

unregistered workmanship.

 

Smoldering at the other end

heavy levels of nicotine

fires stolen by Prometheus

in a reed from Olympus and the sleeping Jupiter.

 

Heavens to earth,

inhaling light and keeping shut.

 

A professor of health

denies toxicity,

trivializing secondhand smoke –

independent scientist – stooge of green lust,

connects it to lifestyle and the entertainment industry.

 

When the cameras are on

the whistle-blowers are always judged: mentally unstable.

 

That’s what happens to radiance

or fire-givers chained to cliffs,

 

a wrathful vulture eating livers

growing mutating cells

for a cancer-from-tobacco

500 crore industry.

 

 

 

Fictionist | Poet | Critic | Curator | Editor | Translator | Screenwriter Rochelle Potkar’s poetry film Skirt features on Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland. Her book of haibun Paper Asylum was shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020. Bombay Hangovers, her collection of 16 short stories is due very soon.

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