I've been meaning to read Sumana Roy's work for a while now. As part of an ongoing collaboration with Speaking Tiger, this week I read the Siliguri-based poet's debut collection Out of Syllabus, and it filled me with mixed feelings of longing, nostalgia, desire and rage.
Right from the cover, which features a photograph by Tanita Abraham that sparks intrigue, to the poems about Mirik, Darjeeling, Shantiniketan - all places I've visited in Bengal, to the way she sensitively captures an emotion like loneliness (I am needy / in my longing / for amnesiac lungs / and knitted skin), she evokes an instant sense of curiosity about her world, both imagined and real, a yearning to keep reading.
Here are five poems from the book that particularly moved me:
Are You Lonesome Tonight?
The door opens itself
into a cave: it holds
a lover’s night.
A caged monsoon.
The room is its own
prisoner. It handcuffs
a silence to the bed.
The day waits
to grow complete.
How can it,
You are its pillow
at the end of a bed,
the day’s backrest.
Socks become balls
in shoes, the shirt
droops for attention
on the old chair’s
The hankie grows old
in my pocket. It misses
your stabs at its stains.
Every hotel-room night,
I want to escape with you
to a life without nights,
where days end,
not into the darkness
of electric switches,
but into you,
where I’m stitched,
as holy books to ears,
into the leather
of your dreams.
Every relationship is a long-distance relationship:
Every poem a letter
Every prayer a curiosity
Every goodbye a question
Every return a going-away
Every longing a sigh
Every embrace a withdrawal
Every tiff an awakening
Every patch-up a hibernation
Every whisper an alarm clock
Every sneeze a calling bell
Every touch a telegram
Every tickle a missed call
Every relationship is a long-distance relationship
Sadness is a white crane on a white cow.
Only one can bear the weight of another.
Sadness is white sand on a river bank.
It is white even when wet.
Sadness is white hibiscus resting on a fence.
It has a white bud and a white corpse.
Sadness is a snow-covered tree, eyelashes of white.
Its branches droop with its own weight.
Sadness is a wild elephant’s tusk, sharp, a deposition of years.
It has beauty and grace only from a distance.
Sadness is the sclera, the screen from which hurt drips.
It washes itself, tinges red and becomes white again.
Sadness is a museum, pictures on white walls.
You leave it but it never leaves you.
Every Girl Is Dinner
(From Swati Moitra’s photograph of Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station at North Campus, Delhi University)
I passed through daughterhood
like a young goat crossing a highway
one wrong step and I could be dead.
(Men, Baba said, were automobiles,
lust an accident, my body rush-hour traffic.)
Before school hour, I sat like a sparrow
on a cow horn—destiny’s bisexual perch,
waiting for a companion
with whom I could take flight.
For that is the moral of sparrow life:
One for sorrow, Two for joy,
Three for letter, Four for boy.
(‘Walk in groups, always’;
‘Aekla chalo re is for men alone’.)
Sometimes I am chicken—
my legs, swollen from captivity, a delicacy.
I am a kilometre virgin,
never having tested the speed of my soul.
In neighbour’s curries, my feet cast no shadow.
I am a ‘good girl’, ‘nutritious’ when stewed.
All my life, I’ve always been meat—
goat, sparrow, poultry;
my tongue eaten raw, like a bull’s;
my fingers giving a vegetable its name;
my body chopped into pieces for temple retail—
Puri, Kamamkhya, franchises of barbecue religion.
Ma Shakti: ‘Shakti Peeth’ to ‘Shakti Mills’.
I hear the phrases tune their strings
in the fibrous appetite between teeth,
in the butcher’s bleeding blades.
The alliterations in a pair: rape and rage,
cannibal lust, carnivorous anger,
words, the world as slaughter house,
violence as scansion, violation as eating.
Woman as kebab, woman in a tandoor.
And I wait, a living carcass,
my life bullied into cold storage,
to surrender my meathood.
Love makes of everyone
a parent. All distances
seem too long, all moments
a first-aid kit on call.
Time becomes a zoo—
our past a caged animal.
Love is an accent
that needs practice.
Where are you?
This—this life’s grass,
the unread books,
moon and brass—
needs a room
Come. Come home.
This distance isn’t safe anymore.
I feel bereft,
I watch my nails grow,
I become my own prison.
How do you sleep
without your pillow?
I see myself turn
into a weekend,
into your likeness.
You are my paperweight,
holding me back from air.
Once you tampered
with my restraint,
put my goodbyes in orbit.
Now I’m at war with aloneness,
like the lost shoe of a pair.
Without you, I am nothing.
I’m a winter month,
hawking darkness at the fair.
These letters I write to you,
these dolls of trance,
turn you into new ghosts,
our love into a séance.
Why this absence,
these cruel vowels
that keep you away?
This love, this need for friction—
skin and bristles, teeth’s tentacles—
is superstition? This is death
if there is death at all.
These tears, these long solstices,
are all love’s pension.
And you’ll still say that biraha
is only the fourth dimension?
Get your copy of Sumana's Out of Syllabus on Speaking Tree. You can follow her writing on her website.