SESTINA ABOUT THE COLOR OF A MISSING UMBRELLA
for Monika Ghurde
It can be dangerous to accuse men of stealing your umbrellas
is what I’ve learnt. This is an old case but don’t worry—it will appear
again. The past is never as far behind as we think—it scuffles
soft and heavy, and no blanket we pull over our faces will smother
it. But yes, this is a story so clichéd, we must forget
it. Like how our every choice assumes our presence in the future.
This is a necessary mistake. A kind of person assumes the future
is a logical progression of their present, and then they are dead. The umbrella
could have been black or red, striped or plain, but I suspect he has forgotten
this. A pity, that there is no one bound to suffer
these details. That it is enough if he remembers how he smothered
her—this is the crucial part. It is enough if he can detail the scuffle,
the lie about the company supervisor, the knocking, the knife, the taking-down, the scuffle
in the bed, the eggs after the rape—these are the details they’d want. The future
may see the same slipping, the same taking-down, the same scuffle, the same smothering,
but—for example—he may eat cookies afterwards, or steal spoons instead of umbrellas,
wear her father’s clothes instead of her brother’s. What does it matter? Either way—we must suffer
the thieves, the liars, the leering, the touching. We must learn to forget.
This is our biggest power. To survive is to have forgotten
our many deaths. To disown dishonours, let them scuffle
behind us like lost children. If you don’t admit you’ve suffered,
you’ve won. If you don’t know where you are, call it the future.
If you have lost a keychain, a spoon, your favourite umbrella,
call it misplaced. Call it missing. Call it gone, smother
your anger—call it wrong. Call it spoilt. Overdramatic. Apocalyptic. Smother
your fears about the man on your terrace—if he is there, it is better to forget
it. Your house has doors and your umbrella
is missing. You must have misplaced it. Scuffle
from one room to the next, search for what isn’t there. In the future,
you may buy a new umbrella, of the same colours; call yourself happy. You have no reason to suffer.
Yes, the law will save us when we are dead and who can suffer
to be bitter about this? There are stories that must be smothered
in the making, purely for logistical reasons. If we cannot assume the future,
we have died already. But some nights, like this one, I cannot forget.
So I assure myself—there will be no pain in the scuffling,
it’ll be like a stolen thing—one moment there, the next gone. An umbrella
in the making. The man said, I’ll suffer anything. But please, let my family forget.
She offered me chocolate. I thought she’d fainted. Smother this story, say nothing about my scuffling
with the dead. This is the future. Let’s call ourselves alive. Nevermind the umbrella.
—from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets
Shreya Vikram: “I’ve lived in India all my life and have never felt at home. Despite learning and speaking Tamil since I was born, the language is stilted on my tongue, broken with bursts of English and violent hand-gesturing. When I look at this country I see something both foreign and intensely familiar, like an organ that has been inside me all along, even though I have never understood it. Poetry is a way of celebrating this strangeness.” (web)