Sep-Oct 2011: Poem 'Who is Beauty?' by Feroz Rather

When I was six, my mother
sent me to live with her

Tucked away from
the soldiers' malignant gaze,
she had a home of her own:
her smell the earthen burnish of its walls,
her serenity the turquoise of its high ceilings,
her silver pleats glinting waves of its tin roof;
the colour of her cheeks reddened its every brick,

She moved her fingers through my hair,
smelled them in filial recognition and
led me to the kitchen in the rear, where
I hid in a dusty cabinet with a dangling spider.

Deep she dipped into the copper
cauldrons, echoing my name with the aluminium
lids, she spread like the warm aroma of cardamom
mutton stew so lovingly, patiently prepared for me

Her nine sons, long dead, were buried
along with the forgetting of their father,
his early visions of her
and his own father and father's father -
the torn skin of their shirts and bruises they
inside them of three centuries of begaer* -
and hers of his: the eruptions of our war,
in the graveyard where lilies grew in silence
around a shrine with a swishing bundle of her
eleven green wish-knots tagged to a lattice
of rosewood framing the mausoleum.

Her solitude rising from the depth and irony of her wrinkles
perched on the chestnut planks of its scaffolding,
her passion, unfolding, spilled out of the windows
into the cackle of a dozen egg-hens making
their way in the white, sluggish vapours
over a colony of dung-hay mounds in her backyard.

Her fingers walked through my hair over my face;
over my forehead, my eyebrows, my eyelids,
squeezed my little runny nose with elegant grace.

She, ninety-nine, had a home of her own,
beyond, in spite of, a million macabre shadows,
in seamless tapestries of her autumnal country
dandling a child’s heart on its hearth,
soaking it in a song of perpetual love,
on and on and on went she.


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