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Date of Publish: 2017-05-06

A FEW POEMS OF ROBIN S NGANGOM

 

My Invented Land

(after Mario Meléndez)

My native soil was created from tiny sparks

that clung to grandmother’s earthen pot

which conjured savoury dishes

I’ve been looking for

all my life in vain.

 

My homeland has no boundaries.

At cockcrow one day it found itself

inside a country to its west,

(on rainy days it dreams looking east

when its seditionists fight to liberate it from history.)

 

My people have disinterred their alphabet,

burnt down decrepit libraries

in a last gasp of nationalism,

even as a hairstyle of native women

have been allowed to become extinct.

 

My native place has not been christened yet

my homeland, a travelogue without end,

a plate that will always be greedy

(but got rice mixed with stones)

 

My home has young people

who found their dreams in a white substance

and the old that transplanted their eyes,

it has leaders who have disappeared

into their caricatures.

 

My home is a gun

pressed against both temples

a knock on a night that has not ended

a torch lit long after the theft

a sonnet about body counts

undoubtedly raped

definitely abandoned

in a tryst with destiny*.

*A reference to Nehru’s famous speech delivered on 14 August 1947, on the eve of India’s independence.

 

From The Book of Childhood

“The yellow mustard’s in bloom

Krishna’s got a wife

Radha has given birth to a child

Krishna is starving.”

 

Once again it is the season that smells of Yaosang.

The yellow mustard departs, peas ripen, and

Boys revisiting the year, steal from vegetable patches at night

For Yaosang’s neighbourhood feast.

 

We cursed the Brahmin priest when he refused to bring the god

To our reed and straw hut on the riverbank

Ready to be razed to mark the new season.

 

As the months warmed up to her

My grandmother pulled out, one by one,

From the caches in her sunny room

Dry sweetmeat she brought from her endless pilgrimages.

In winter, she could only give me wizened fruits

That looked like her fingers.

 

And then the courtyard plays, the touring cinemas,

The khongjom parba phaibok, arrived in droves,

Growing in clamour as a boy’s nights grew very late

And he didn’t know that his father had gone looking for him.

 

For the boy, though, in the twinkling festive nights

Every girl was a fairy or a goddess

Smelling of lotuses and dreams.

 

And having abandoned his grandmother

While chasing his kite he felt guilty

And went to her now “dark and mouldy” room.

He found her tied with a rope to her bedpost and

Hobbling around her bed. She said,

“I’m mad now, don’t come near me.”

 

The boy ran onto the street behind his house.

But while running on the street he did not realise that

He was growing taller with patches of hair under his arms and belly

As the life of the street claimed him.

It could be his blooming heart

Or his wet dreams, he mustered up courage to ask a girl out

After writing fifteen perfumed letters

And they went cycling past the returning mustard fields on riverbanks,

Past his almost happy boyhood.

 

So many years he waited in vain for them to return

The pena shakpa, the laiharaoba, the chalees of kang,

The half-remembered pass khelas.

But they’ve disappeared in the folds of his reveries

Like the fairies and the goddesses.

 

One day in his middle years

They all returned suddenly as a courtyard play

Watched eagerly by wives and boys

Before they became victims

Of the killers who have stepped out

Of the performances and created widows

And made boys disappear into endlessly waiting days.

 

She

In truth, she doesn’t exist, isn’t possible.

I created her from gathering dreams,

Composed her from exorbitant pages

Ripped from time.

She never gives me pain,

I founded pain from her:

From her irresistible eyes, her unbound hair,

Her bright body.

 

There are many

Who do not know

The joy of a solitary night,

Several who are ignorant of

The unexpected embrace of

Her inflamed stigma. These

Do not build upon ruins.

The night they do not know

Will not make them inconsolable.

 

I’m still surprised at how

Without arriving she is always here

Like falling rain which doesn’t stop speaking

But does say nothing whatsoever, and

Without being profound

She can convert ordinary men

Into thoughtful creatures.

 

We turned her into

The earth’s soft component, and

She again reminded me

Of my birth’s astounding passage.

And one day I entrusted the key

Of my life’s lonely tenement to her.

 

Until now, from a brutally single existence

I moulded her.

From my faraway youth’s seasons

I embroidered many dreams

On her dark hair.

I cast her like an icon

Put shape and form in place, but

Couldn’t make her stir.

Searching for her

I lost the road myself.

 

I’m keeping her alive

Only from the mystery

That I do not know of her.

 

Spring’s Torment

I

Tonight on, we’ll speak without speaking,

The unearthed pages of jealousies now shut.

Diminished like the world, we

Feel what orphans, lowlifes, trees, dogs feel.

 

Why do we return to a room

Where nights beat the day sadly?

Why did derelict clocks stop at midnight, and

Photographs begin wearing dusty jackets?

 

Neither ghost nor living,

Something under the cover of hills’ night

Goes to your street in quest of lips.

II

I should have sucked you in me,

I am lost without your fingers,

Your healing oils,

My terrestrial hours inhaled without

A thought for the world.

 

But looking under sheets

Of twilight, for the left anklet

You lost, for me to search each time

And claim its owner.

 

I long to hear you moan again

In your native tongue,

Scribbled across my night’s skin.

III

With birds whooping spring across treetops

Green days taken away from us

Will be divided among blue lovers.

 

Neither in triumph nor with loss

We bend with the flow of awakening estuaries.

Did we wound forests or hearts?

With a rapture so imprecise?

IV

Another dawn, my love, your smile conceives

When stars tousled your downcast hair.

I recovered from your lips what I knew to be

Constant as midnight water

In the thirsty glass.

 

When I put my mouth on yours

I turn blind and deaf, earth must wait.

Even as we speak, we become wet

With dew.

 

The world returned

With all its intrigues,

Its streets and smoke as our lips separate,

With schools of resentment, and renewed

Hunger for space.

V

If only you would walk like spring

Before my window’s heart, before

The blinding rain which drowned

Your ankles and keep us divided

Between dark latitudes.

 

The sky is a slow throbbing lead today,

A juvenile fluttering of watery wings

Begin on my foreboding panes, the chandeliers

Of pine sway drunk, casting away their yellow radiance,

Fires which sprout green being doused

Only the faint cinder of hours remains.

 

And the day’s torrent takes you away

In a submerged bus with broken windows

Running carefully with my memories.  

 

Funerals and Marriages

 

I’ve stopped going to marriages and funerals. Any demonstration of grief or joy unnerves me. Solemnity withers me and dark elegance leaves no one moved. It’s not that I’ve forgotten kindness or to wish people happiness if they can find it. I could help the bereaved furtively after the mourners have eaten and left. I have become truly unsociable.

I can’t fathom why anyone would like to be comforted except by people they love selfishly. You only need hugs and kisses from people from whom you can get your morsel of flesh. I cannot be comforted, except by the woman I love illicitly.

 

I often wonder about the efficacy of marriages and funerals. Could it be because others are as worried, as I was during my own wedding feast that my friends would not show up for some mystifying reason? As regards funerals, I know that if the house of the dead cannot keep a demonic hold on me my absence will not make any difference. But I don’t want to be censored for not attending marriages or funerals. I wish people would not invite me to weddings or bring news of an old acquaintance’s death. If I could I wouldn’t attend even my own funeral.

 

I remember the day I returned home, and without even seeing my father I went to my aunt’s house when I heard my cousin had died during my long absence. I tried to match my aunt’s grief by trying to show some tears in my eyes but ended up sniffing like a dog. After that, my cousin’s sister, my other lovely cousin, in whose body I first sang a liquid tune, gave me pineapple to eat and we smiled at each other. I used to dip my hands into her blooming breasts, a pair of frightened pigeons. But later, my dead cousin appeared in my dreams to play and protect me again as he did during our childhood. He took a long a time to go away and I had to spit three times to be sure that he doesn’t haunt me.

 

I remember this film about slum-dwellers in Bombay and how after the tears and the burning they would bring out their bottles of orange liquor and get drunk and have a real ball. That’s one funeral I would like to attend.

 

The Poet

"Robin S Ngangom (b.1959) a bilingual poet and translator who writes in English and Manipuri, was born in Imphal (the "forgotten theatre" of World War II), Manipur. He studied literature at Shillong's St.Edmund's College, and received an MA from the North-Eastern Hill University, where he currently teaches literature. His three books of poetry are: Words and the Silence, Time's Crossroads, and The Desire of Roots. His poems have appeared in magazines and journals like The New Statesman, Verse, The Literary Review, Planet: The Welsh Internationalist, Kunapipi, Kavya Bharati, and Chandrabhaga. Anthology appearences include An Anthology of New Indian English Poetry (Rupa), Khasia in Gwalia (Alun Books, Wales), Confronting Love (Penguin India), Where the Sun Rises When Shadows Fall: The North-East (OUP), The Other Side of Terror: An Anthology of Writings on Terrorism in South Asia (OUP), and The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (HarperCollins India). He co-edited Dancing Earth: An Anthology of Poetry from the Northeast (Penguin India). Recipient of the Udaya Bharati National award for Poetry and the Katha Translation prize, Ngangom says that he is a "historically forgotten, politically-overlooked poet from the nook of a third world country who believes that poetry cannot do without love."

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