Poetry by Saima Afreen

Poem No. 1 | When Broken Syllables Travel to Your Cells

Saima Afreen
Discarded by glass windows
Is this the same light
That burns a rose inside me?

dissolving butterflies in the voice of a dying afternoon?
rushing past injuries, fears deposited
over years, crossing stations
of nursery rhymes,
entering forests of Tao and Tolstoy
between sleet and rain we decide to take its birds
for empty verandas deep within us

and then uproot their first tweets
from iron staircase now stopping with a jingle
at some hamlet. Its mud huts
eye the dimming lanterns
of our bodies, its women
bring more firewood for
the last journeys to burn

to sun crops of sin
within skin, and thread
bottle gourds with knives
that had silver of forgotten rivers

the dusk wears, and as the milk-pot cools
the train whistle spins
green strips of young rice-fields,
trees of kikar, sheesham, scents of wild flowers
the laces that bound these
were streams flowing within
now alive, pick seeds for
a desert that once was a garden on my face

my train ticket takes the shape
of blue hillocks moving with the train
a compartment opens within me
from its wing-like windows are shaken
birds, births, trees, breeze, flags, rags
and fall on a land that outgrew
its people, their bodies

pinned to clouds
where comets pay homage
to temples of blasphemy

i stretch my palms to catch
a mirror full of faces. It bursts open
with bird-cries

i wipe the call of children from my forehead
and drop my ticket
to a scorpion-station

that fades into a speck
            my father’s eyes dropped a long time ago…

Poem No. 2 | On Leaving the Hotel Room

the crisp voile curtains
float near white walls
the way the sea always
blooms under the moon.

I have the songs of starfish, of the sea greeting my cheeks with its saline waters
I unpack suitcases, the breeze inside is full of moon crescents
that play with half-stories, unslept pillows and tangled wind chimes
and bring to them craters in your soul that complete the incineration.

When the cleaning lady comes the next morning
the room will whisper to her of a porcelain tale
that broke under my eyelashes. Of white noise
no soap can clean. The new guest will find his
quilt whitewashed with the moon, with stubborn absence
the infant islands once drank
before vanishing in planks that covered lost itineraries.

Poem No. 3 | Inside a Papier-mâché Box

---the moon was yours
When you questioned midnight
From dark dancing clock.

Your embrace was a pink-lily
Pinned against milky-wall:
dawn seeping into soft paper.

A sliver of vanilla light fell,
fragrant, half-decayed
where Road No.3 disappears
into a long-stemmed rose;

at its edge your theatre-songs sleep.
The marble-stairs below your room
Are pollen dust held gently
By the air: silent, in the velvet mouth
of Scheherazade. 

Poem No. 4 | A Forgotten Maple Leaf

...there was autumn in that woman’s eyes,
Who sat in shahmina evenings arranging
Bed-sheets                                 that smell
Of her son[s]. An absent portrait 
frames her face that she left
for deserts of snow and salt to preserve. Her eyes

a leaf: tattered, beautiful net, delicate
I discover with you between pages 
Long forgotten. 
You caress its fragile veins
touching your own growing years asking
for a name: its lost seasons, its agreement
with closed light. You look for the woman’s
yellowed years. 
They are bleached with travels.
It is her session again with the winds; she arranges lilies
and couplets on the table
The chandelier in her Banjara Hills home dims
Like the smile she distilled
From her son - leaving him just the residue 
Of a child dead years ago. In a hall of mirrors
she plays 
with two dead young men. 

Poem No. 5 | Coming Home

I am sand again
The seagulls return with my atoms
In their beaks to a faraway lighthouse
Tall, proud, brooding over its broken windows.
When the sun sets on your rooftop
I will be liquid glass for blind windows

You had hand-picked me grain by grain
Drop by drop, for a castle  on your knuckles
You folded me in shape of what could be
Me. And I became a wall, glittering 
Your fingers smoothed my corners plump

Like a newly erected temple: wet with
River water, adorned with champak flowers
Quiet. Its peace rising and falling with the wave
That took me away to the bottom of a ship.
Sailing to the clouds. I will travel on your knuckles
Till I become beach again.