‘I Am Running Out of Places to Clean’ and other poems by Aashika Suresh
By: Aashika Suresh
I Am Running Out of Places to Clean
My cupboard is arranged by
pants, shorts, skirts, shirts, tees,
formal wear, semi-formal wear, informal wear,
indoor, outdoor, forest, beach,
blues, blacks (mostly), whites and the rainbow.
My bedside table is as good as new,
squeaky clean, with not a spot left untouched.
The earphones has been returned
to its pouch, the sunglasses shielded
in its cover. My duvet matches the pillows
even on days my lungs are barely in sync.
There’s an order to my things now,
a place they ought to be. If the spoons
are in the fork drawer, I feel a wave
of panic come on. The knives
must be out of sight, the bowls together,
the saucers never too far apart
from the tea cups. When I was younger,
I left things lying about,
never too perturbed by the heap
on the bed, the laundry on the chair.
My closet was a battleground I could
navigate in and out of. Unarmed.
Now I declutter compulsively, arrange things
in a soothing, calming fashion,
easily accessible, as if
I could fix it all by ordering,
as if my thoughts would miraculously untangle,
as if the pieces of my life could be
put back in its place with just
a round of cleaning up.
I’m afraid I’ll run out of messes to clear.
By the Ganga, on Harishchandra ghat, three
pyres burn, crackling in the evening
like a bonfire. Three bodies, burnt ash
that will flow into the river, wash down
to the sea – identities waning into memory.
The water is in perennial mourning,
you can tell by the way it laps around any ankle,
seeking forgiveness for all the lives
it could not sustain.
This is as close to truth we will ever come,
Raj tells me, as he beats the cadavers deeper into wood
so they catch the flames faster, that we’re
whipped in both life and death, that no matter
how far we go, either the earth or the sea
will claim us as their own.
A few steps away, a boy of five
runs about, around a dustbin, chasing a street dog
down the road. His mother cooks
with leftover firewood that her husband
brought back from a ceremony earlier. She
stirs a pot of rice and lentils on a makeshift stove.
From where I stand on the ghat steps,
you can smell the holy river, the warmth of
a simple family dinner, burning
flesh and a rot from somewhere in the alley.
There is a distinct flavour of life in the city of Kashi.
In the middle of a subway station,
she cuts off all her hair.
Years of mother’s relentless toil,
fingertips dipped in coconut oil,
drenching her roots, tight braids
and sunlight protection for an
untamable, thick mop
a single, snipping moment.
With a fishtail in her right fist
and a garden scissor in her left,
she boards a fast train that will
take her to a backyard of wilted
jasmine flowers and rose buds,
and a wooden table with a razor blade
on top- to finish up the job.
Tonight, and every night after,
she will hold his rope in her hands,
like holy grail he will never have
control over. The prickle
on her scalp will remind her
that sometimes, you have to pull
away the weeds in order to let
a garden flourish.
Summer has arrived-
with its golden warmth and ice lolly
lips, melting the city’s cold.
And there are butterflies.
All hues of them- monarch orange
and lime blue, greens and reds.
Will you follow them
into a park, watch them suckle
a flower and wonder, how far
have they traveled for survival?