Three Poems – by Zainab Ummer Farook

by TBLM

Salt

Mother thunders into the kitchen,
a banished witch reclaiming her place
amidst the arcane, and tips
half a jar of salt into the rice
like she tipped over the wardrobe
earlier, her rage untrammelled by grey pills
or Godrej steel. ‘Choril uppilla,’ she chants,
her abrupt fury terrifying my cousin,
whose perfectly-cooked rice has now been
salted beyond salvation.

It is only years later I understand the ire,
the ignominy of under-salted rice.
Second by bland second, hour by insipid hour,
I stew in my gruel of accumulated griefs,
its thick, viscous numbness eating away
at my stomach. The tears are long gone.
I seek refuge by the sea, yearning for feeling,
flavour, salt. I could lick it clean off the air at Marina
or maybe just walk into the waves, the weight
of unwritten poems lining my pockets — but then

I’d nest in the sand and never leave,
my snail-shell fort resolute against the unhurried
assault of brine. For now, my tongue must weather
days that taste of nothing, as it hankers for the wispy
burst of joy from a salted caramel ice-cream.

*

Spelling Bee

I bite
into the word.

It tastes of hot summer sun
and thorny wood, staining
my tongue a deep leafy green

and leaching vowels,
the consonants left bursting
like pink popping candy.

They say it’s French, but
it is as much Kannada as it is
love’s language

for I buried it, once,
in a kindergarten playground
with a half-remembered rhyme

ondu dina
peddana hendathi oblu
laddu maadidlu

and I saw them
grow old, flowering
into memory.

I bite
into the word, or maybe
it bites into me.

When a wide-eyed five-year-old
grabs a prickly arm
of that great big tree

and bids it yield to her whim,
he nods assent —
slowly, lumberingly, but only

if she called him by his name.
Then, in a sudden blurry quiver
of brown, the earth shakes

and all that remains
is papery pink rain
against solid blue sky

crowning me princess
of a long-lost dreamland,
as I spell

b-o-u-g-a-i-n-v-i-l-l-e-a

and dig up
the roots of all things.

*

Miseducation

Our paths diverged when you told me of Hind’s rage:
how she rode into the rotting remains of the battle
sought the corpse of her uncle’s killer,
dug deep into his entrails, yanked out
the liver and chewed her way through it.

As the story unfolded itself, part by bloody part,
(shudders, shivers, bile rising in the room)
I thought: what a badass, this Hind.

Then it turned out she joined the Righteous,
shedding her hunger like snakeskin. I sighed.
Even liver-eaters receive His mercy, or so you said,
and in some corner of my head, the story ate dust.
Some days, however, Hind gallops horseback

into my dreams, whispers: the liver?
Feast on everything you can, love,
but eat the eyes first
.

***