• Babitha Justin

Selected Poetry by Babitha Justin


Photo Source: Flickr


First Flight


She tripped on her luggage,

weighed down

by her sister's lungs drilled

by hookworms.

I wrote down the process,

from checking

-in to boarding,

fastening the seat-belt that

click locks and

unlocks,

“A cup of noodles for

two hundred bucks.”

She shook her head.


My first flight was at 21, my pretty

classmate made

friends with a pilot who indulged

her with packets

of red and yellow boiled sweets, my friend

offered me her loot

with a twinkle in her eye before shoving

sweet-packets

into her knack-sack. I sucked on them

with a perforated tongue


Last year, I flew out with you, I remember

the dates, time, weather.

I held my sons close, feeling the safe shadows

of your steps.

We stood at the sea shaded by

cobalt, turquoise

and phthalo blues

your wandering eyes drank them all,

I was

a golden grain, lapped by

a foamy wave.


Today, when she walked away from me,

I ran to the kiosk

asking a man in blazers to

take care of her

on her first flight.

I stood near the departure as the security man

scanned her curves.

She swept in like a queen, looked back to see

if I watched her leave.


I waved a teary arm the same way as I waved at you

I staggered with my

bloated luggage to see you zip-past, scissor-swift

with the strangers who

winged as windflowers, after shining

their moons on me.






Hand-Me-Downs




Yesterday was my friend's

mother's cremation,

I didn't want to see her either dead or set on fire,


Once, she had fed me

rice and spiced potato

curry that tasted different from home.


She had handed me

down her daughter's

skirts, they clung snug

around my waist before

my love-handles burst

from their seams.

I blossomed in them.


The last time I saw her,

she was hobbling

inside her house,

her walking stick drummed

up into my darkness,

she warned my friend,

I was selfish and thankless, surely,

I should have paid back

for those skirts.


Perhaps, she thought

I stole her daughter's spring.


I didn't attend my

friend's husband's funeral

for the same reasons. I was thankless and in love

with a man who

swallowed up my warmth,


her husband too had walked away from

her, like I did, in the past.


I will wait for the pyres to die down

to step out of mine, walk towards

my friend with a bundle of blossoms

not made from the recycled,

handed-down clothes

I wore like a queen,

but, from fresh and bleached ones,

white and sparkly with gratitude.





Games


At the therapist, he is hungry,

stalls are stocked with vadas, burgers,

biscuits. Cars are whales

fished out of the sea,

he laughs looking out of the window.


When he opens his mouth,

I see a universe:

frolic's meteor showers,

star-studded baubles,

lances and pincers for words

wedged between his

tongue and cheek,


his hair bristles

defying gravity,

thoughts swirl

off tangent

unadorned by

peacock feathers,


the therapist

writes him off

on a wafer-white

paper prescription.


I know, he has

snakes for friends, stray dogs

as his kin, he dances with the storm,

he balls up clouds like butter

in his palms. He pockets

the prescription slip, folds

it into a paper boat for a rainy day*.


· Images of Krishna slaying the demons, and the mother imagines her child to be the young Krishna and experiences the divine in dyslexia






Chutney Grinding



I used to grind chammanthi[1]

for my grandmother, she hated our newbie-mixie– which had sharper

blades than her tongue, swifter turbos than her footsteps.


I had to mash Kashmiri

chillies charred to cinder,

with a few crystals of rock salt, to a paste; the catch was

to grind a dollop of

Tamil tamarind into a tongue-twister.


Shallots, picked, peeled to perfection like

the moons of her eyes. Grated coconut – waited for its turn

to be roasted, I slurped over

the story of an elephant who plunged his trunk into a hut begging for coconut halves.


The paste should not be smooth nor coarse, chammanthi ought

to achieve the fine balance, reaching there, my arm-sockets ached.


The ground

roughage of curry leaves,

was the garnisher’s gouache,

I scooped off chammanthi

from its the raven-granite universe. It had to resemble the

roundness of a planet

with curry leaf river-veins,

speckled with chilly-flake stars.


With burning palms, I balanced

age, time, geographies, tastes, myths and

universes

in the not-so-simple act of chutney-grinding.


[1] Malayalam word for Chutney, usually made of desiccated coconut.



Babitha Marina Justin is an academic, a poet, and an artist. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Eclectica, Esthetic Apostle, Jaggery, Fulcrum, The Scriblerus, Trampset, Constellations, Indian Literature, Singing in the Dark (Penguin), etc. Her books are Of Fireflies, Guns and the Hills (Poetry, 2015), I Cook My Own Feast (Poetry, 2019), salt, pepper & silver linings: celebrating our grandmothers (an anthology on grandmothers, 2019), Of Canons and Trauma (Essays, 2017) and Humour: Texts and Contexts (ed. Essays, 2017).