Meena. Ameena. Leena. Each name is like a stitch
on thin fabric, a pattern that returns: repetition
not as in crochet-rings but perhaps the plainer art
of a sewing machine: small loops on unskilled tongues,
silence, and hum, a breath let go each time
the pin-hoisted spool bobs up to eye level
or the needle-pair pulls to the crest
and falls back to the solid hull. All hour
I watch them sing with the singer, their eyelids flicker
as the floor fan turns its face to them, then brushes mine
and is at last stopped by Madame's double-stare.
I sit bow-legged on my cool mat,
the day stretched on its straw patchwork
with shirts and curtain frills and much unfinished business.
A sleeve moves. Loose reddish threads peer
from under hems. The metal end of a tape-measure
sidles out of piled coordinates. Voile, muslin, tusser
rush through my fingers, fine and finer fiber
folded back or flowing on the floor. This is a day
of cut meters, hour after hour laid out, sheared,
let gothe flow unwoven imaginings .
Meena. Ameena. Leena. The faces ripple
like faces on a piece of printed cloth
held up and flapped against the fan, then briskly rolled
back onto a staff. Those flat eyes stare at me.
They are on the plaster, in the door-chink,
behind a cane chair. They are everywhere. But I
can promise them nothing. Saddened,
they are lowered. Sun fades. Stem-bent fingers
press the mantle down, the fold flush to the edge,
as the needle hits the thumb-cupped space,
then shift it up along the seam. Invisible threads;
invisible clips in hair; foreheads rinsed, so even Madame
will not make out that hint of vermilion.
Still, I think she suspects. A stole of old ways
rests in her arms. She eyes the blurred fingernails
and half-baffled, looks up to the wood-colored handbags
slung on panel hooks. Nothing gives.
No compact case peeps out. No talc. No drying stain
of chianti, latte or mimosa. Yet as the mantle is parted,
each forehead becomes mirrored on the plate,
a husband's thumb pressed faintly on the parting.
Meena. Ameena. Leena. The chant of airless mornings
dies in noonsong. Heat beats on the shutters. The room
shimmers as the fan troubles it one last time
before it spins to a neverending close. We sit here,
trapped in these flowerless borders, this arid end
where only Madame's cactus-tongue may bloom.
Sound drains as thread runs from the bobbin; then returns
with each turn of the balance wheel. Briefly,
I think of gripping that unyielding metal rim
and steering us away. So ladies, close your eyes,
ease your shoulders and draw your flat-heels
from the treadle with the slightest rustle of salwars.
And you, Madame of the tireless stone-eye, move now,
knot the thread at the stole-edge, nip it off,
teeth to cloth, and give me leave to speak.
Or name your price. Say this
and so. But when was the last word said?
In the square
A game. Musical chairs. A sunlit patio
tucked in a wider yard, the eye of a white square
on a day of crosswinds and unruly crosswords.
Emeka of the song,
Raoul with the red rose,
Sasha who bites his nails
and the Kora humming.
Earrings, a round cap, small pickup & speaker
all that one needs on such days and applause.
Even Raoul taps the old cobbles with a foot
as he keeps lookingman, these legs, these white sashes!
But shhh, we've seen all that. In his turn, the master
has spoken and leaned in his stone chair. "Young man,
you're down and long gone. You know you should've tried
the rook retreat to second, some ways back, you know ?"
He zips his windcheater for even in summer
a gust from the river often hustles us although
one never knows where the river really is:
perhaps in the background, hidden by that steeple,
across those stained bylanes where parking this time
is such a chore and not even no garage in view, man.
And there's the new master, our man from Bolivia,
no him in the white shirt, rubbing his temples there.
It's Ilya's move now, head perched on two thin palms,
Ilya to whom I dropped six in a row,
not for money though or was that really seven ?
Who knows ? A sparrow alights on my table
driven off, I suspect, by master's water gun
and sits there ten seconds
exactly. I'm surprised
he trusts me that long.
This table's taken. Wait, these chairs also.
Someone brings in straws, plastic spoons, napkins.
And guys, it's Jim's birthday, a hand please, a hand.
The freshman stands up, burnt foolish in the sun
leaving his iron chair empty for a minute
and iron gates closing. The brick dorms, the campus,
the turrets and tourists from 1857.
Don't walk just yet. Don't cross, there is time
for a final photograph in front of the statue.
These are my wedding bells
and she is not mine yet.
And this is her birthday
but she is still not mine.
Plaits, a white hair band, a mole on the neck.
Raoul with the rose who loves this time of year.
But shhhour Raoulski, eternal sparring mate
of Sasha who speaks softly of Leningrad and love
in the voice of a rebel or of a child of change
whose sky has turned brighter, whose new flag flaps
and pours out sunmotes in a bowl of ice-water
and on my friend, the master who has risen from his seat,
doffed his patched Texan straw hat and scratched his head.
Now he gathers all the pieces into his leather pouch,
the last pickle gone, the last thread tucked away.
Push-clock in its case. They pull out the chairs
and the cafe boy returns to mop the round table,
to pick up the last bon mots the party has scattered
on the way, the short flight just over to Church Street.
A flurry of wings; my lily cup ripples
to the strings of Congo, the thrum of the hollow gourd.
Bolivia's flag wobbles and falls. Ilya!
Your voice, the Kora humming,
Emeka of the song,
Raoul with the red rose
but hush, we know, we know.
© by Sambarta Rakshit