Sunday 3 September 2017

Remembering Zeinabu


At dawn I woke to a translucent dream,
and Zeinabu was bending over me -
her eyes tender unfolding hibiscus,
her smile the sharp edge of a naked blade.

You recall Zeinabu, don't you? She comes
often, to my bedside, banyan, angst, verse,
she is the rose that goes by many names -
Zenobia sometimes, Janhavi, Jean -

as per the moods of the seasons and stars.
Today she handed me a light console,
smiled her sharpest smile, most mysterious,
whispered, “no walls. Water, everywhere. Still.”

She used to stop by the golden windows -
calabash with endless rafts of butter
in a buttermilk sea - and ask strangely
pointed questions. She was the old, cracked pane

refracting rainbows off her own edges,
shattered raindrops on her limbs and torso
collected into rivulets, into
the fluid breadth of language as they fell.

The roofs were archived in her, the broken
brick arches, the crumbling sphinxes that spoke
with the mouths of kings. Two mourning doves played
with her left shoulder, she gently set them

down on my balcony, “these might bring you
something.” They didn’t stay long, pecked the rattan
of the seat, kissed her hands for the last time,
and took flight, invisible in seconds.

“They can be,” she sighed, “a bit annoying
really, why I can’t fathom.” She came with
dawnlit tombs hidden in her braided hair,
the forks of wide boulevards on her forehead.

She brought baskets of fruits - figs, guavas,
split them open to flesh-pink, offered me
an uneven quarter, and asked after
my mothers, my children, the dusty bloom

on the innards of my wine kegs and cups,
inscribed rice grains, and bullets, flattened by
ricochet, collected at my feet in
poison pools of metal. Where street children

played at hopscotch and tag in the debris -
there was nowhere else to go. “How’s that one?”
She asked after the gun-fingered, ten-armed
members of our furthest clans, our peoples.

India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan are reeling from the worst flooding in South Asia for decades. The losses are staggering. More than 40 million people are affected, and 1400+ people have been killed. Please click on this link here, and/or here if you wish to help. 


  1. My heart goes out to all those affected. Oxfam gets money from me each month to spend where the need is greatest - not a decision I could make.

    1. I relate. Rough times right across the world. Hard decision.

  2. Thanks Nila - I've been thinking of all those peoples in South Asia - particularly on the Indian subcontinent. The floods look so appalling ... I sincerely hope relief will be forthcoming - yet it will be needed for years ahead, let alone the immediate moments and days ahead. With thoughts - Hilary

    1. Yeah, it's bad enough when it happens, but the aftermaths are awful and prolonged.

  3. Quite a poem. So much water tragedy everywhere.

    1. This past season has been particularly heartbreaking. Glad you enjoyed the poem, thanks.

  4. Zeinabu brought to life. (Her story is all around us) Let us do what we can. Thank you

    1. Yes indeed she is all around us. Thanks, Martin.

  5. Horrible flooding all over the world. In my country, the state of Texas has been suffering too from the effects of Hurricane Harvey.

    1. I have friends there, thankfully they are minimally affected. Hope everyone you know there is safe and dry. Non-stop stream of disasters right round the world.

  6. Nila, your wordsmithing is exhilarating and I was swept away in the current. I'm at the airport on my phone so can't pick out quotes but the 'buttermilk sea' had me pausing to think about that.

    As you can imagine, in our west-centric news services the Asian floods have received minimal coverage but I was well aware of it. Those losses are staggering for people already under pressure such as Bangladesh slowly going underwater.

    Our government is relatively generous and will be donating and Aussies go to banks and donate personally. I will help where I can.

    In the sky in 2 hours. Stop off in Hong Kong. Then on to London.

    Thanks again for the awesome prompts for WEP. So excited. I hope I get some time to do Dark Places. Have a story that needs cutting.


    1. Yes, I did notice the lack of reportage on the media feeds, social and otherwise. Though many individuals, like yourself, are aware of the Asian situation too, and are actively doing what they can to help. Bengali speakers are in a ghastly situation, the beauty of our waterscapes is also the reason for the worst nightmares. This year has been particularly bad, and much, much more than Bengal is affected. Desperately sad situation.

      Your trip sounds absolutely divine. Looking forward to the stories (and photos!). It's grand being involved in WEP! Love the buzz.

      I'm struggling with the Oct prompt though :D, flash's going off in non-Halloweeny directions and can't seem to bring the story back into that particular groove. Lots of time, hopefully will sort itself out.

      Have the most awesome time and safe travels!