Apr/May 2010 Poetry

The Trunk

by Shweta S. Banerjee

The Trunk

Latched tightly
with a thick brass lock
the trunk rested solidly under her bed.

A dozen years ago, she had come to live with us
from the other side.
She had brought that black trunk with her
in the train from Dhaka
watching it from her seat through the nights
and not distracted by the displaced crowds in the day
as it sat steady on a coolie's head.

Now news had come of her death
in a neatly typed telegram.
Her distant eyes were now shut
and their cataracts released into pyre fumes.

I don't remember when she came to live with us
and soon, I was the only one she recognized
the rest became strangers,
shadowy characters of her constant dreaming and muttering.

I remember one morning at breakfast
eating loochis cooked by my new sister-in-law
when she barged into the room
and poured a pail of water on top of my father's head.
Only my sister and I had giggled.

I remember her clean skin;
her white sari that held the aroma of cooked rice.
Her wrinkly hands that smelt faintly of sandalwood
and soap
from washing and ironing the cloth I sucked on before falling asleep—

I also remember that evening my sister and I
were punished to stand under the banyan tree in our garden—
as it grew dark, its thick roots began curling into hissing snakes.
And how when the drizzle started, my grandmother emerged from the house
and gathering me into her arms, ran back inside, muttering sharply.

Her trunk always sat there
under her bed, all those years—
none permitted to go near it, not even a wandering wasp.

This morning as that trunk
was dragged from her sparse room
a small crowd gathered around it
anticipating the treasure of saris, shawls, copper-ware, perhaps even gold.

The lock jolted apart at the fifth blow
And as the rusty iron creaked opened
the crowd peered in.
They found one white sari, neatly folded
perhaps steam-pressed twenty years ago,
slightly burnt along the edges
and yellowed.


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