1 min read

It took me a while to understand that

People caged in charcoal outlines 

Have more blisters than 

The stomach of a coal pit

And when I did, I wanted to go back

To being six and fanatically drawing

Clouds on walls despite my mother’sS

uperstitious admonitions

That my graphite burnishes on the concrete 

Would bring debts to my father

When I asked papa what debt meant

He sharpened my pencil

And placed me high on the dresser

In front of an unblemished patch of beige wall

I moved to paper after we relocated to a place 

Where the paint unpeeled with each

Stroke of my pencil and the clouds

Smelted into depressing sludge

And after years and years of drawing 

Periwinkles sprouting from cracks in the walls

And tailorbirds involved in lovers’ quarrel

Flanked by paint smudges smelling like ammonia

I discovered charcoal and bodies –

Unclothed and unclouded and 

Caged in mineral frames of toothed timelessness

Bodies that are material and potted

And thawing and wilting 

And bodies that require

Mapping the distance between the eyebrows

And counting the pleats between the thighs 

For imitating the allegory thrusted into

A woman’s statue baring her breasts to a comatose crowd

The walls are naked now 

That I understand what debt means

And I hold onto the perennial faith of

The body and its jagged edges 

And wordlessly practice drawing hands on the breakfast table

Of my father’s holding the morning newspaper

And my mother’s 

Holding something invisible 

Her grasp unsecured 

But never an outstretched palm

And yet I have never seen my mother’s clenched fist

So I stealthily place the rage into her hands 

Knit her hands in a mesh of protruding veins

The joints of her fingers distended 

And whiter than the air of reconciliation

And the outline so darkened 

That she refuses to recognize it as her own

Is that a mountain? A valley? She asks

Yes. It’s yours. I have a stack of them

And I have named them all after you

And when there are no bodies around 

I rub charcoal on old newspapers with my eyes closed

That’s the void –

Paper-thin and laid to rest under my pillow

Pushpanjali Kumari is an English literature student, illustrator and trilingual poet from Jharkhand, India. Her work explores lasting encounters of her own rural Indian life.

* The email will not be published on the website.