No room here

The ghost that twists in the basement
is a remnant of me.
My fears have fed him over the years,
giving shape to his collar bone
adding flesh to his thighs.
Every road
that I have yearned to take and refused to venture on
has given fodder to this ghost.

A few years ago, I saw the demon had grown too big for his cell.
No, he was not caged.
He had stayed of his own will.
He liked to stay inside my head, he said.
He became a tenant who refused to pay rent
and never seemed like he’d move out.
I had pity on him,
let him squeeze my brain,
let him leave his fingerprints on the inside of my skull.
Maybe he’d leave after a month or two, I thought,
and kept feeding him,
till one day he grew so huge,
my head was too small for him.

That was when I decided only one of us could stay.
That was when I stopped gift-wrapping my fears for him.
He began to throw tantrums like a child being deny his favourite toy,
he would sulk in a corner for nights.
I let him mope,
pretending I could not feel him trying to gnaw at my eyeballs.

It’s been a year since then.
The ghost has shrunk to a quarter of his full blown size.
I’m waiting for him to shrink into nothingness.
It will happen slowly, I am told.

I don’t know if he will leave
before I kick him out.

NaPoWriMo 2017, poem 23

Star

Years ago, we stood under a moonless sky
looking at stars.
We tried to figure out
which one was which
and who was who.

Trouble was we had only twenty fingers between you and me.
How many celestial objects could you point with these?
What about the ones that slip away?
What about the ones that died fifteen years ago,
the ones whose deaths would reach us tomorrow?

Stars create light
not knowing how far it will go.
I don’t know if they care.

You tell me you began collecting them when you were five.
I started at seven.
You slowed down at six;
you were afraid you’d drain the sky of its brightness if you kept adding to your collection.
Who would want a box full of light in a world dressed in black when they turned ten?

When you turned eight,
you left the box open outside your door,
uncovered under a depleted sky.
There was a meteor shower that night; the universe was thanking you for setting its children free.

As you grew, you would see it expand, its brood growing.

You made friends with the distant lights;
you were an easy talker
and they could listen.
Man, they could listen and listen and listen
all through the night.

Maybe the day gave them time to sleep over your stories, to absorb them.
Maybe that’s why they would come back brighter the next night.
You wondered if they used your stories.
You gave them some more hoping they’d get brighter.

They never disappointed you,
and you never ran out of stories.

On a clear night, you could weave a trail across constellations, following the path of your tales.
The sky, a network of your memories.
Your first kiss driving a cleft between the stars of Orion’s belt,
the school bullies pierced by the horns of Taurus,
Aquarius carrying memories of the cat you rescued from bandicoots
but could not save from being blinded by street cats.

Some stories would sink into a black hole,
their memory shredded in a vacuum.
Deservedly so, you think.

Why would you want to remember
the time you were groped on a bus,
the time you were told geeks could not play football,
the time your first poem was ridiculed when a friend saw what you had scribbled,
the day a part of you went six feet under?

There they stayed for years. Some defied physics and came back to haunt you.
You were stronger this time; you had brighter stars to lean on.
Some of them lent you their colours,
some their burnt edges.
From a few you borrowed unyielding streaks of light.

Some stories stayed put in the black hole
while it collapsed in on itself.

It’s a good sign, you tell me. Every scar can’t make a bookmark.

We are out wading around the universe tonight,
floating between those celestial lights.
Somehow, you’ve managed to whizz past black holes.

Looks like it’s a new trick you’ve learnt.

Picking up the pieces

It’s been fifteen years, you tell me.

You had just come back from college,
and had to rush to the hospital.
It was close to the end of the visiting hours.

And then you saw your father,
that independent man you had always known to be,
You saw him leaning on your brother’s arm,
struggling to stand.

Your uncle came in the next morning. ‘Freddie is no more,’ he said.

You did not know how to react.
While you struggled to come to terms with it, someone asked you to buy red bangles.
They were for your mother, they said. You complied.
On the way back you saw father lying in a coffin in the hearse. You realized he was gone, it was sinking in now. The vacuum was getting bigger.

At home, they made mother wear a red saree and the bangles you had bought. Just like a bride, a newly wed.
As your father left home with the final prayer,
a few women stepped ahead, and broke Ma’s bangles with a spoon.
It was a ritual you were told. You had played your part in getting your mother to follow it.

Before they shut the coffin, you bent to kiss his forehead. It was cold and sweaty, unlike the warm touch of your father.

As the years trickled past you, his memories dried up.
Earlier you could hear his voice in your head,
you could remember him egging you on the race track as you ran to pass the baton at the relay.
You could see him, out of the corner of your eye, running with you on the inside of the track.
You could feel his touch as he picked you up when you had collapsed after giving your team a winning lead.
Over the years, that egging voice has morphed into yours.
The smell you can’t remember.
The touch has faded too. You can only remember how his skin felt both cold and sweaty when you kissed him goodbye.
You will forget that too, you say. It’s like an empty word whose meaning is draining away.

You remember being disconsolate when the cemetery was running out of space and you had to let go of his last remains.
You took time to know it was okay; you could not hold on forever to shreds that would remind you of him.

And then you grew up. Into a woman.
You began to understand what Pa meant to you.
You hung on to the positives, only because you had suffered a sudden loss.
Slowly you stumbled on the skeletons.
His frailties, his shortcomings.
You realized you had lost a person you did not even know.

Even then you remember him for the independence he empowered you with,
how he lifted the burden of conventionality off your shoulders,
and yet wanted his wife to tread the conventional path.

You struggled with this duality. You forgot he was only human.

You realized a lot of memories you created of him were second-hand ones,
some passed down to you through your mother or your aunts,
some you had gathered through hearsay.

You had created your own idealized virtual image of him.
That was your guarded cave you retreated to whenever you wanted to think of him.

You have blown apart the cave now.
It was all unreal.
You had glossed over the vices,
even covered the glitches with wallpaper.
Yet the faults remain.

Yes they do.
Yes, you built your own illusion.
An illusion that helped you through the dark years,
memories that egged you on,
to make you the woman you are.

I have never lost someone whose memories I would have to hang on to.
Yet when I do, I wish I can deal with it like you did,
so that when everything turns to dust,
when the jigsaw falls apart,
I can still smell the fragrance in the picture.