Stone Telling

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Sita Reflects

by Koel Mukherjee

Maybe if I look for a hearth
I'll find shoes for adventure,
Become acquainted with bird-flight,
A prisoner of demon-girls with contrition in their smiles
And ocean on their fingers,
Heavy with garlands of ruby and bone and
Quiet chains for mad kings
With the keys to the world in their fists,
While you turn the age over to find me
And avenge the honour we call mine.

Maybe you can forsake until
You turn blue with cold and scripture
Gold and orange with hunger
As pure as the frost-fed river you haunt
On the days when marriage is too loud for prayer
And palaces too hot for snow,
While I feed you contempt and desire in a rice-bowl
Because you won't touch anything when you fast.
Because you were a child on our wedding day
And apologised beforehand.

Don't think I won't try.
Don't think I'm not grateful.
Fourteen years is something to grasp.

Maybe the forest will give us fruit, and deer, and tall sons
And we won't go back to those halls of gold and spite
But put roots in the earth and green seeds in the soil and
Make a house out of fruit-trees to outlast the ages,
And the vein-torn tales of scrolls and their scribes,
Who think they know where we are.
Our sons would grow up farmers, love, die on that soil,
And we would find each other to be enough.
Even though we never have before.
Even though demon-skirted women flash their eyes and
Teeth in my dreams
And I wake up fragrant with soil
And ransack the sky for vultures.
If this is the age of grace, and
You are my husband, and
I am your wife,
Why do I long for black-boned Kali,
Her skull-throat, her lotus-blades,
Her battle-burst tongue?

If I found the end of the world
And longed only for more green coconuts,
More libraries, more demon-tamed suns,
You would find me there longing for
Rescue and forgiveness,
Ravage empires in my name,
With no tall sons to remind you of
Treehouses and forest-green soil,
No child-marrow shaming you to hesitate.

I'll let you burn me in the city square
Before I see you burn the monster-clawed world;
I'll let you burn me as I always do,
With a smile for skull-necked women and ungrown trees,
For empty rice-bowls, and libraries fat with heresy
On a hot shore at the end of the world.
If it's a day for earthquakes (and it always is)
I'm still smiling as the ground splits,
As the pious and pusillanimous gasp and crane,
Even though I know they will hoard that smile
And say,

"Demon-ruined Sita accepts her folly.
Fire-cradled Sita accepts her duty.
Earth-swallowed Sita accepts her fate.
A wife for all ages of women to be."

And this thing that was our marriage
Will be stripped down and sucked dry,
Meat to fatten temples,
Coal to fire scribes,
Boiled into songs and burnt onto stones;
Devotees of the universe, take heart!
Your avatars for the ages of unborn spouses:

A boy convinced he's god, and
A girl who chooses demons and earth
And being burned like a book, over
Being his wife.

Koel Mukherjee grew up in the south of England and a twisty-laned town near Kolkata, where an unquantifiable portion of her heart still lives. The rest of her lives in a small, sunny flat in South London where she writes poetry about disobedient boats and mythological characters with gumption. Koel has an MA in Asian History from the School of Oriental and African Studies, and her current fixations are undeciphered scripts, The West Wing, and whether or not to plunge into the joy and terror of a PhD. "Sita Reflects" is her first published poem.

Read Koel's discussion of this poem over at the Roundtable!

Photography: Modified from Kapila Nangiar Koodiyattam, by Ramesh Lalwani.