Poetry | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 26, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:18 AM, August 26, 2017


The Many Uses of Pillows in Times of Parting

Carts. Midnight. Crossing.

The women at the borders.

No one saw them. Saw only pillows.

A pillow under her belly.

It's how she fooled all

-- wanted to look with a baby

The nights had waned.

Her belly was slashed split.

The grass turned purple.

Another had a pillow on her side

under the unloved cover.

This woman called it her man

The boatmen sang a dirge.

Kadam trees hung their arms.

Her spirit walked over to her lover.

A third one, she had tied

a pillow on her body

to avoid the sticks and kicks.

Even a dead body can sing

if peace comes in extinguishing

-- this body was broken notes.

The cotton on the pillows

are all stories of grief

each fluff pared of dreams.

Even before the border turned crimson

each cowbell rang the news --

on each side pillows propped high

each looking more human than those limbs. 

(Based on oral account of women crossing borders with pillows tucked with their money, gold, and small belongings)


I imagine a house of ponds and fields

Night on it an umbrella of peace

All doors leading into more doors and then suddenly --

No more distance in their sandal straps

My mother's frock soiled. Face asunder.

Her fingers smelling of dry fish. Eyes mute.

I imagine a road where feet become a river

where the chhatim tree swelling with fragrance

waits for the passers-by. This is where they went past

the bell metal glass in householders' cloth bags

and trinkets the grandmother will gift me later

I imagine all unrest being laid on their breasts

like a child gone weary. Nothing happened.

The dust of feet fleets back to the dirt track

the fire bombs dive like ducks in serene pools

the knives soar up to become birds only to fell the stars

the blood all back in the heart throbbing, sobbing, in love

all barbed wire turns into homecoming, never a partition.

I imagine -- our words, yours, you are mine.

Partition Stories


Mashi spurned gandma's chemise, cotton course cut --

her lament: my only bra I left at the border trafficker's hut


Left an adaab at your doorstep, a wound

brought my gods this side, scattered them in the wind


She had ease in marigold and trees. Then in water --

jal and paani sealed her future

(dedicated to Selina Hossain's "Meyeti")

Nabina Das is a poet and writer based in Hyderabad, India. A 2016 Commonwealth Writers correspondent and 2012 Charles Wallace alumna, she is the author of two poetry collections, a novel and a short fiction volume.

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