Pooja Nansi is the author of two collections of poetry Stilleto Scars (2007, Red Wheelbarrow Books) and Love is an Empty Barstool (2013, Math Paper Press). She runs a monthly spoken word and poetry showcase called Speakeasy at Artistry Cafe in Singapore which has featured readers from places as diverse as Burma and Botswana. She is also one half of the spoken word and music duoThe Mango Dollies.
Watching my man polishing his shoes
is like a deep tug into love.
It is the way he sits assured,
holding the mouth of each shoe
in his tolerant and steady palms
surveying each inch of leathered surface
through critical eye before calmly
and purposefully sleeking with
soft but confident strokes till what was once
imperfection becomes lustre.
It is the satisfaction on his face when he
tells me how this is something
he saw his uncles do duty and army bound.
How he learnt that good men
could wear old shoes, but not dirty ones.
How he sat a wide-eyed child watching them
as I watch him now, realising again
that it is this understanding—,
this kind knowledge that things
which have been around long enough
This patience he shows
in his gentle movements
which coax each scuff
into sparkle that continues
to save my life.
Is it in these bottomless nights that you sleep in exile? – Arthur Rimbaud
Is it in this horizonless
solitude that you float, your grief
grasping for a name you do not share?
Where your lips finally soften
to admit the hard word love to
all that you have lost?
Where the cracked bucket of
your heart collapses into itself to
pour and pour unto
harsh, unfertile ground? Where
only the wind can give sound
to lamentations for which you
have not yet found the words?
Is this where your broken body
crumples into the child
you once were? Confused over
a small problem looking
for your brother
to walk through the door?
“Without your pain sound has no taxonomy, cannot calculate its tax returns. What colour are the birds you smuggle in your chest?” – ‘Song’ by Alvin Pang
The hummingbirds hover in mid air desperate with agitation and blue hysteria which only subside when I soothe them with whiskey and sing them the saddest songs. Even when they nestle down I still feel them trying to make my heart their home. Burrowing in deep, their beaks pierce at my membrane creating perforations to let in a little air which might tranquilise the aching twilight of their loneliness.
Some mornings are better than others. Occasionally they awake, neon, and drum their tails wildly on the chamber’s floor, jolting the blood stream into a gushing treble of joy. At these moments, I believe they must be my heart itself because I hear an acute boasting pulse of life in their blizzard of noise. When they met that dark boy in 2009, it got embarrassing. I could barely hide the iridescent purple and green plumes that sprouted from every pore and the proud preening sway of my walk to the sound of the hypnotising birdsong far below.
Then there’s disappointment. They’re confused about that. Sometimes it is unexceptional. A smattering of house sparrows, perched in a single spot, their heads turned dolefully to the expanse of a sky that is beyond their reach or interest. Other times, a singular albatross appears, hiding the sun with the span of its grey sorrowful wings, threatening to make extinct the existence of light. My heart can barely hold it. Always in the night, before I sleep the geese waddle into formation, practicing for the eventual migration they dream of.
Though sometimes I barely feel them, I know they are there from the soft open-mouthed squeal that emerges from a fledgling’s transparent, strained neck, begging for a poem to be fed to it until it learns to clumsily topple out of my chest, attempts in trepidation to stand on its own two feet and fly out into the world as a poem itself.