Am I too much heart? I ask for the twelfth time this month.
You turn towards me, earphones plugged in your ears,
gesturing me to repeat what I said as you always do.
We’re careless around each other now, the days flowing into one long,
translucent sheet of life, the rum lying low in our matching mugs,
your hair smelling faintly of filter coffee that you make every morning
because something has given you the ludicrous idea that I like it.
You’re swaying your body, bobbing your head, muttering the lyrics
of a song in a language I don’t comprehend, don’t ever want to learn.
Looks like it’s going to rain today, I say in my tongue,
and now your cheek is resting against mine. I can feel your lips move soundlessly and I hope that the foreign song is for me.
We met at a bus stop, and now you’re sitting next to me,
peeling off days from your obscure calendar, undoing my alphabet, rearranging my sorrows, lending me your mysterious phrases.
It hasn’t crossed my mind to ask you the regular questions,
whether you want the blinds closed or open, if you’d like to
go for a walk after, or if you want to see this city, that city, someplace else? Would I tell you that I detest coffee if you could understand it? No.
It’s Me Calling. Please Answer.
From now on, I will grow quiet, gesture you in for potato soup I made just that morning. I will become small, steady like the flame of the lantern watching the forest fire in the distance with an implacable calm. I will change my body type, my weaknesses, my religion. How about I become a sea worshipper? I will barter my psychedelic dreams for stated visuals such as untouched cups of tea, folded towels, an unchanging calendar. I will accept the apologies not given, feel the kindness not received, hug the friends not made. I will lower my gaze, turn my back on fried food and even forget birthdays. I will leave my wall clocks behind, chop off the years of my former self, suspend the notion of time. I will not leave a forwarding address, litters of old passport photographs, phone numbers where I can be reached in case you want to inform me that our dog has died. Better still, I will become an earthworm person; give them names after the Hebrew alphabet: Alef, Beit, Gimel, Dalet, Hei, Vav, Zayin. I will be and not be, and I will not ask the question. Then, slowly and deliberately, I will adopt another vocabulary. Borrow from the languages of the winter cold, of laughter, of grief. I will learn that the root words of these universal dialects lie in the ancient languages of sea, joy, love. I will also learn their slang to make conversation with the locals. Maybe they will like the new me, don’t you think? Maybe they will call me in for teardrop cakes, mirth pies, infatuation parfaits. Maybe I will tell them the stories of the girl that used to be, refer to myself in third person “Aliya was never found without a storybook,” I will say. I will learn their decorum, dances, rites of death. Then, as it always happens, I will have become someone I hadn’t intended to be. But if I should ever call you and speak in the language of grief, will you know it is me?
All This Truth
I am convinced
that if I told you I love you,
we would float away like a summer afternoon on a weekday
that this wanting would be compressed in three syllables
that it would become street talk,
that it wouldn’t match the abundance of my silences
that it would belie the physical space between us —
the place where resides
the unspoken words in your eyes
the undelivered kisses on my lips —
that it wouldn’t be enough.
So, I don’t.
What if I Could Remember It All?
The green teapot swallows the tea-leaves you drop into it, soft steam from inside rises to cloud your face, and all I can think of are the hundreds of things I forget to tell you. Of the white bougainvillea that I collect for you on my run at the untouched park every dawn and place them in the blue cookie tin lying inside the dank cupboard — one that you’re never going to open and I’m never going to clean. Of the time I visited a butterfly garden and they told us how the butterflies remember everything that happened to them as caterpillars and I complained loudly, What’s the point of dying, anyway? Of the old man at the end of the lane who offered me his tattered skull cup once and we sat on the footpath unravelling the crochet as faith filled the palm of my hands. I’m stitched together with stories upon stories of unremarkable black birds on weathered trees, tar and cement roadways that promise to go nowhere, how I can’t hear when I’m not wearing my glasses, flickers of light on lamp posts beneath which squatters play cards and smoke something insidious, the abandoned cars on the side of highways. But every time I see you, look at your sun-spilled eyes, I am unstitched, all these stories fall away from me, tumble into nothingness. I forget. And after you are gone, I go gathering all over again.
As I sit down on my desk to write this,
it begins to rain.
From my window, I can see the Gulmohar tree
across the street being washed and weighed.
I have never enjoyed getting wet
but you love the rains —
their soft violence upon the earth —
a continuous chisel of mirth and healing.
As if love in itself is an inscription upon our bodies.
Remember the night we had just arrived
at that damp hotel room in Srinagar?
It poured vulgarly.
An inconsequential fire burned in the grate.
I watched you read Faiz as I unpacked my clothes,
laid them out neatly on the bed.
And then, without warning,
the electricity leapt off into silence.
I was thankful for the darkness,
it enveloped my fear of being in love with you.
Your shadow crossed the room and you stood
near the window humming a song to yourself,
watching the silvery curtain draw over the sky.
As I pull out my stationery from the desk drawer,
I think of that night, of how ever since I met you
I am afraid of being not-so-young
The paper smells of jasmines,
like my memory,
and the rain pours down in sheets.
The Gulmohar tree has its back to me
and I write to you.
Sameen Borker is always late to the party because she was probably reading a book. When she is not smashing the patriarchy, asserting the supremacy of French fries, and braving Mumbai traffic, she writes poetry, book reviews, and short fiction. Sameen is previously published on Wasafiri, Coldnoon, Scroll India, The Ladies Finger, and Helter Skelter.