The powerful voice that one hears in these poems, as you spend some time with them, is of a person who is trying not to forget against all odds. And that’s a lot for a person living in a zone of conflict. As Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali writes in ‘Farewell’, ‘My memory keeps getting in the way of your history…I hid my pain even from myself/ I revealed my pain only to myself.’
Speaking of which, lines like ‘It is easier to tread/ the carefully made grounds of/ cemeteries than listen to the/ dying screams of people buried/ in the stories of aging tongues’ are hard to forget once you speak them aloud. Jamir says the idea for the poem ‘Sometimes’ was “born when I was stuck in traffic behind an army truck. We had grown so used to seeing uniformed army personnel that people hardly questioned their constant presence in the state.”
‘Sometimes’ was also the first poem she read during the poetry session of the Nagaland Literature Festival, held on the 3rd of December 2021, a day before news of the Oting killings, in which an army unit gunned down 14 civilians, broke out.
sometimes, when I pass
the faded greens with
guns in their hands,
when I’m stuck behind rows
of netted trucks lumbering up
the steep slope,
that this land, wrapped
in festivals and songs,
is still tied with
ribbons of barbed wire.
Time Smells of Black and White Photographs
Time smells of black and white
photographs and sepia coloured
minutes on paper,
where dead strangers live
in the eyes of children-
the colour of skies and trees.
It is easier to tread
the carefully made grounds of
cemeteries than listen to the
dying screams of people buried
in the stories of aging tongues.
There is soot in your veins
from the burning wood
of torched homes
that would have been yours,
but it is easier to walk ahead
in leftover shadows, than look
back at the rubble and piece together
broken carnelian lives.
December unlocks the old wounds
Stowed away in the storehouse of
unwanted memories. Something about the cold,
the smell of smoke and charcoal
tugs at the phantom stings of an altered heart.
The frenzied air of traffic and rushed activities
have suddenly fallen quiet in the sombre stillness
of cold unmoving bodies, still
tired from a hard day’s labour.
There is no rest;
the festive lights bring no joy,
and the cool December breeze
Is a hard slap to the face.
Emisenla Jamir is a writer and educator from Kohima, Nagaland. Her first collection of poems, Loneliness is an Orange, was published by Barkweaver in 2018. Her short stories have also been published in the Zubaan anthology, The Many that I Am (2019).