by Sumana Roy

It is 1984.
The ink of soil is dressing our nails,
its sweat sniffing our feet.
The weight of discovery’s a blanket on our shoulders.
My grandfather is torturing the soil.
He wants the potatoes to behave like athletes.

I’ll soon be ten, my brother eight.
We’re still friends. We still share a bed.
We lie like gravestones beside each other at night.
We fight like the wind during the day.
We’re angry that we’ll be siblings all our life,
that there is no retirement age to this relationship.

But here, near grandfather’s pond in Hili,
we are fish looking for our lost scales.
We’ve never seen a village.
We think it a flaw, we complain.
We think it a holiday, we treat it like a wallet.
Everything is new for us, even this sharp water,
which behaves like bandage.

Grandfather wants to be a grandfather –
he scolds his son to claim ownership,
and soon our father is no longer ours.
We watch our father’s anger slip into a coma.
He likens our bodies to empty bottles,
our thinness becomes a disease, the city’s fault.
Our bodies need soil, soil and potatoes,
potatoes, where soil’s talent is condensed.

And so we go to the pond –
its arteries green with slime.
Grandfather holds me like a fritter
and dunks me into the pond.
My flat chest crashes against the flat chest of water.
Only one of us is breathless.
My limbs become horns, honking for freedom.
My brother runs away.

We meet at last, our hips on the soil.
Suddenly, the soil seems funny.
We scrape and dig and fight its tightness.
My brother and I laugh – we’ll win this tug of war.
We pull the head of leaves with all our might.
But all effort’s a waste – we could be pulling sunlight.
We bend and squat and probe and scratch,
we say Shh-Shh, trying to catch it unaware.

Until the soil explodes and the potatoes emerge
like grooms. The elasticity of our joy bursts.
We fall to the ground, fattened by laughter.


About the Author:

Sumana Roy’s first book, How I Became a Tree, a work of non-fiction, was published in India in February 2017. Her first novel, Missing, was published in April 2018. Her poems and essays have appeared in GrantaGuernicaLARBDrunken Boat, the Prairie SchoonerThe Common, and other journals. She lives in Siliguri in India.