Poems By Nabina Das


from rivers and towns: fireflies and fish conversations

those fireflies and rivers

wanted to get to the roads

over the banks of refugee shacks

over tumbling tempo hoods

over our embarrassed long and rounded vowels

just to smell the tar of dawki roads


and walk walk walk those monsoon-muddied paths

that brought us at the teetering end to ask:


will the fish wake up and recognise us?



the valley people spoke of a beautiful fish-woman

who came up to the river shore on full moon nights to taste salt

of the sands, of the tongues of pahar line cooing through tunnels

where trains ran headlong with  faces hidden


they spoke of a black horse on dawn’s back

a horse that munched on rising sunrays

the pasture of light

and showed them the way beyond where the magur had swum away


did you say the woman was a mermaid?


in fact, she was all fish

a woman who could swim through doors like some of us



once through the milling crowd we had burrowed in

small change in tiny hand and counting trees of legs

we were small

we wouldn’t answer strangers and princes and clowns

even though the fair with its Ferris Wheels had encircled us

and the crowd became the rising sea

surging in us the fear of the known

hearing hey mister acharjee babu and oh missus prerona debi


no we aren’t running away from home

once through with the milling crowd we stopped

at this lane by the strange

house that was lonely

we got home with the fair in our head

circling like afternoon pigeons while

someone screamed from afar


— come see the little girl cut in halves

come, come see her live and speak!


my uncle stuffed fireflies in his pocket

to go to the barak’s banks

fireflies as baits for the fish he secretly listened to

he wooed the fish and told them stories


i’m told on gibbous nights they too

came up to tell him tales

truths and half lies

of bodies pushed under

of sad brides sleeping under waves

of fingers and rings carved on bed-mud

of money stash swaying like algae

of keys to homes that stood on one legs before falling asunder

of map etchings thrown to the fish’s mouths

of words turned into sludge

of gods who wouldn’t be worshipped in households


the fishing rods stretched their length

drooped in one corner of my uncle’s house

they carried the load of those stories

until fireflies returned to listen to them

glittering in dark corners like children’s eyes


i’ve seen them hum together

before the railway line outside went home

and conversations were served in coffee cups

Nabina Das, a 2012 Charles Wallace Fellow, University of Stirling, UK, and a 2012 Sangam House Fiction Fellow, has a poetry collection Into the Migrant City (Writers Workshop, Kolkata; cited one of the best readings of 2015) and a short fiction collection The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped (LiFi Publications, Delhi). Published widely nationally and internationally, her debut poetry collection Blue Vessel(Les Editions du Zaporogue, Denmark) was listed as one of best of 2012 and her first novel Footprints in the Bajra (Cedar Books, Delhi) was longlisted for the Vodafone-Crossword awards 2011. A 2011 Rutgers University MFA, a 2007 Joan Jakobson (Wesleyan University) and a Julio Lobo fiction scholar (Lesley University), and a journalist and mediaperson for about 10 years, Nabina teaches Creative Writing in classrooms and workshops.

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