This city’s neon-crafted eucalyptus branches
are spears in the sparrow’s eyes. A walled
villa whose mistress can’t remember
anything other than her own childhood,
a highrise-sized fiberglass sunflower
adorns its manicured garden, the petals
cupping into a plastic-hole for the sparrow
to nestle. To be born with a city
on my eyelids– a necessary training
to stare at everything through the veil
of a hole-ridden thousand rupee bill.
Yet, I cannot make up my mind
about where to look. The never-ending
silence of this city’s cacophony: I
am learning to memorize
the name of each one of its corners
without recourse to the explanations
in your cheekbones. The unbroken
silence of the train piercing
through the mountains – you
are a sledgehammer inside my spleen
that keeps alive this recitation of caveats
you yourself found difficult to obey.
Do not lean too closely on the lamp-post.
I learnt to recognize the safety of illiteracy
by putting the hunger’s sounds
on my open eyelids. The relentless
silence of the crows cawing– behind
every misrecognition that guided me
towards these graffitis is a desire
to peer out into the subterranean
constellation that emptiness promises.
That the dawn of this city
remains hollowed out of birds
other than crows, sparrows and common
mynahs. The irrestible pull
of the clockhand that chisels itself
from the blister in between you toes
is nothing but a gateway
to a palm full of callouses: inescapable.
That precise twilight when every
bruise ever incurred assumes
the shape of alphabets I cannot
read. This urge that is safe
only on the tip of my tongue
is the precursor to this illegible
unforgiving – the effort to gather
the scattered glass shards
through a chronicling of your touch.
Against your cupping fingers, the sparrow
is dead. It is when you burrow
into the hollows of the fiberglass
petals to give death a shape, I know
the sound of you gasping is also the thud
of a city burying itself in a billowing
book. On your open palm, the sparrow
with its beak slightly open. Otherwise,
unhurt: unsullied. An instance of how
plastic makes asphyxiation collectible.
Your questions are closing in, my
ultimate promise: I will always sleep
with my door open. A feather-cloud
on your lips, and we both know,
with or without touching each other,
this city is not meant to be housed
in second-hand bookstores.
As the City Chisels Itself from the Carfumes,
an affliction creaks inside the streetlights,
turns the broken cobblestones into unearthed notebooks
of what lies beyond —
a submerged estuary, ravaged mangroves, a seed
in the beak of a babbler. A girl
with a periwinkle behind her ears
stealth-opens the door, summons her pet
sparrow. A clacking of her tongue,
an impatient rhythm in between her thumb
and index finger. The sparrow flaps
its wings, shades its brown and grey – a chorus
of colors this city has forgotten
to redraw save and except in neon-lights.
In its unfurled feathers, the sparrow
will tether the girl, together they will transplant
coconuts within the elephant-ear leaves
of a banana plantation.
…………When the sparrow
…………draws blood with its beak
…………in the middle of the girl’s palm, it is
…………to coalesce the knowledge
that it is in splitting our own bones,
that we house others’ love-stories.
In seven years, the girl will refuse
to pray, leap from roof to roof,
looking for two gigantic clockhands
to rattle the city awake: a concrete
act of disobedience as befits
…………only a Catholic schoolgirl. Yet,
…………insubordination, too, is a kind of grammar book.
…………An affliction that requires diligence, learning
by rote. Across her thighs, sprouts an eucalyptus —
dead, from the very moment of its inception. Yet, offering
its branches for the migrant birds to fall asleep. Inside
the beak of the sparrow, a colony of locusts.
Our girl is young, but not young enough to forget,
a daffodil-bruised tongue, cannot
be rubbed anew with cussa-grass. Today, she
forgets– again– to feed the sparrow.
Nandini Dhar is the author of the book Historians of Redundant Moments (Agape Editions, 2017). Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in New England Review, Memorious, New South, Best New Poets 2016 and elsewhere. Nandini hails from Kolkata, India, and divides her time between her hometown and Miami, Florida, where she works as an Assistant Professor of English at Florida International University.