M 1 Poem

Small Towns and the River

Small towns always remind me of death.

My hometown lies calmly amidst the trees,

it is always the same,

in summer or winter,

with the dust flying,

or the wind howling down the gorge.

Just the other day someone died.

In the dreadful silence we wept

looking at the sad wreath of tuberoses.

Life and death, life and death,

only the rituals are permanent.

The river has a soul.

In the summer it cuts through the land

like a torrent of grief. Sometimes,

sometimes, I think it holds its breath

seeking a land of fish and stars

The river has a soul.

It knows, stretching past the town,

from the first drop of rain to dry earth

and mist on the mountaintops,

the river knows

the immortality of water.

A shrine of happy pictures

marks the days of childhood.

Small towns grow with anxiety

for the future.

The dead are placed pointing west.

When the soul rises

it will walk into the golden east,

into the house of the sun.

In the cool bamboo,

restored in sunlight,

life matters, like this.

In small towns by the river

we all want to walk with the gods.

© 2004, Mamang Dai

From: River Poems

Publisher: Writers Workshop, Kolkata


He is twelve

and is to be executed by drowning.

He escapes.

Now he is sitting in front of me as if he has just come

out of a shower

but he is shivering.

I have no time to hold him

or release the grief that held me.

I must hide him

from the full house that is

half-emptied of what it holds.

A cardboard wall, hardly enough.

It must suffice. For now.

The people know he is here

but they greet him as if he had never left

and never needed to.

I still do not know what he did.

Like every mother I say, “My son is innocent.”


How did they plan his execution?

Is it all make believe?

Were they pirates? Did they make him walk

the plank? Did he walk off the edge

like a fool

with his head in the clouds?

I can believe this last

But I cannot believe in death by execution

execution by drowning.

It is not civilised. It is not how we live

where we live.

There weren’t men lined up, rifles pointed

at the boy who came up for air

and reached right for the clouds.


He flew. This is what occurs to me.

I still dream of flight

as if the bowl of heaven is an illusion

just because I can see right through it.

I gave him wings but he used them to come home.

Twelve is too young to be thinking of nests,

too old for a son and his mother.