25 June 2022

The Poetry of Homes

A poet sent her poem in response to the Nomad's Diary

Many poems for home.
Many poems for home. Getty Images

The floodgates have opened,
The dam has burst,
The words pour out
Like raging water, un-muddied and clear,
Carrying everything in its path,
My particular past, present and future,
A potpourri of objects from my childhood homes and beyond.
They remain etched in black and white and color,
Almost mystical mandalas, swirling in my brain.
The silver Menorah in a corner of the bookshelf,
The painting of the two elephants,
My father poetically named after his daughters,
And the red curtain, artistically lit by the lamp,
An unexpected flame to the future husband,
And a tribute to father’s love of aesthetics.
The lone cockroach hiding in the curtain folds,
And the tossed slipper missing its mark,
For the killing of creepy crawlies from the garden.
The sound of the scurrying mice,
And the mice whiskers twitching in fear,
From a hole in the bedroom wall.
The ancient grinding stone in the kitchen,
The smell of fish cooked on the slow fire for hours
Till crisp and tender like chicken.
The twenty-four black volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica,
With an article on The Titanic found under T,
The two-volume History of Art jackets, with their missing contents,
The borrower revealed to mother in a dream, and duly returned!
And the sea, the sea, a constant backdrop
To the ebb and flow of human emotions.
The other backdrop, the garden,
With friends on chairs,
And children on stone steps, doing homework.

Then the other kitchen 
With the Jewish recipe for mince patties of golden crispy covered exterior,
And the coconut fibers which shone the brass pots to catch one’s reflection.
The cooing pigeons in the high rafters,
The tears of the child when an egg fell and broke,
With no promise of the baby pigeon in sight,
And the endless dust swept up in vain by the broom
Of loving hands.
The sound of water in the taps for two hours at dawn,
And the philosophical discussion of grandparents,
To the background of the old telephone, ringing, ringing.
The drums and guitars of cousins, echoing,
To the house below.
And the monsoon roof, open to the night sky,
Frightening the child with hidden monsters,
Real or imagined.


Poems of many homes
Poems of many homes Getty Images

Then the mountains, pine martens and flying squirrels,
The occasional blood-chilling roar of the panther,
Echoing in the silent valley.
The winding road, conquered in lurching taxis.
A baby born to an unsuspecting couple,
The Mission Hospital blessed with the Himalayan birth.
The doctor’s hands skilled and prayerful.
The groaning ‘pushta’* threatening to take the home with it,
To the abyss below.
The monkeys, brown and grey, with their swishing Sunday noises,
The natural alarm clock to the hope of sleeping in.
And the mountain legs, climbing, climbing,
Up, down, up, down, and into bustling town.

And finally, the Wild Wild West
The end of the line perhaps,
Or is there more?
Line dancing with students, cowboy hats and boots, juicy burgers and sizzling steaks,
The reservoir with a river cruise in season,
The boat horn deep and haunting, heard from the kitchen window,
The cotton-ball snow and the permanently painted grey sky,
With the summer window, short and sweet,
Dotted with robins and landscaped flowers,
Butter chicken, Naan**, Chole Bhature***,
And the ‘curry drowned rice,’
All a salve for homesickness
A recreation of the beloved and the familiar,
And work, work, work,
Rupee, Dollar, Peso, Yen.

Take me home, where the million people roam,
And let me lose myself,
Where I once belonged.
Or keep me here,
Bright eyed and bushy-tailed,
Like the squirrel that eats my tulip bulbs,
And thrives and scampers on the pine trees,
On my front lawn.
So I can make a home,
Anywhere that destiny decrees.

The missing verse is
For the first home I made with the man I loved
In the gently rolling hills with a mongoose and a lake
And a snake or two curled on the tree
To tip toe past
The kitchen grinder above
Grinding Grinding
Spices and romance into new chapters
A male child delivered to the new union
Travelling down the hills 
To the small town hospital below
Amidst the cows with evening bells
And the wooden table with clock
Ticking Tocking fourteen hours
Of pain and subsequent joy.

* Pushta is a retaining wall
** Naan Indian bread baked in a clay oven
*** Chole Bhature – spiced Indian chick peas with fluffy fried Indian bread

Also Read | Nomad’s Diary: An IAS Officer Tries To Find The Meaning Of Home