"Addiction" Contest Winners / September 2016 (Issue 33)

Grandmother Wouldn't Be The Last

by Ankush Banerjee


You often visit me
like an inconvenient tongue-bite
in the middle of a working day. What you leave
behind, I later appease with layers of stale
yellowed sugar, now red,
and the smell of
blood, taste of blood, slowly fills my head like an echo
fills an empty room, or memory the mind,
right before sleep. You
are the smell of blood, the brooding
ache, the sudden awareness that heart
is not the only place where pain
visits like a ghost and leaves a thin trail
of loss like crumbs for birds
who will never return.

Bleeding stops like the
800 rupee Titan wrist-watch I gifted you – the one you wore
attending your prayer meetings, always
aware one day everything stops. Yet, you prayed.
When it stopped, it stopped like a thunderstorm stops,
ceasing to be itself,
known by what is left behind—
a prosody of loss, enacted
by a half-hearted caste of
broken branches, dislodged nests,
torn leaves and puddles outside our home. As children
you taught us
to tip-toe these puddles,
make faux bridges out of bricks and paper boats
always that reached the other end. Some swiftly,
others slowly.


I am expected to gulp another spoonful
of sugar, steady the dizziness in my head,
go back to my computer and write a paper
on What Turned Somalia into a Failed State.
I am expected to treat your going as a given.
I am expected to not write this poem in the middle of a meeting.
I am expected to keep a straight face and tell
them my eyes are moist because I bit my tongue!

the bitten tongue, that will eventually heal itself, that will
ready itself for being bitten again.
And when it does,

I will keep this blue jar of pale,
yellow sugar, ready.

 This is the winner of Second Prize in Cha's "Addiction" Poetry ContestAnkush Banerjee on "Grandmother Wouldn't Be The Last":  Frankly, ever since I read about Cha's "Addiction" contest, I had been working on a poem about an ex-heroin addict I had come across while interning at a de-addiction centre a year back. But somehow I wasn’t getting it right. I wasn’t getting ‘the voice’ right. It seemed contrived and artificial. It seemed like ‘a poem about addiction’, rather than ‘a piece of addiction’ itself.
On the morning of 28th June 2016, my grandmother passed away. I live in a different city, and it takes almost 4 hours by air to reach home. Hence, I didn’t go. There are some rituals which are conducted on the 13th day according to Hindu customs. For attending the rituals I travelled home. Once there, I suddenly felt the absence that death leaves one with. Until then, her death was ‘news’ from home. But this absence was real, almost tangible. And yet, the whole house seemed overflowing with her belongings—her comb, utensils, slippers, medicines. Ironically her belongings seemed bigger, more magnified in meaning – the opposite of what she had become in the end of her days. It was an odd paradox. But I suddenly, and as is the case of the associative power of memory, realised this was not for the first time that I was meeting that feeling—of confronting the void. It had previously happened 3 years ago, when my pregnant cat had been hunted by dogs. I had to rush her to the vet. He had operated on her but seemed bleak about the outcome. I had got her back to my room, laid her down, fed her and lied down beside her. In the wee hours of the morning, I checked up on her. With a single touch, I could hear my heart race and my mind say the words, rigor mortis. A similar routine of confronting the void amidst so many sombre objects – her cat nip, her feeding bowl, the bell she never wore but wrestled with, ensued. When I returned from the ceremonies, what I had thought of addiction had changed. Yes, heroin addiction was an addiction—but the sort of addiction I seemed to know best to write about was grief. Not sadness, not despair, but grief and its recurrence in our lives. My mother is a Buddhist. I have often had conversations with her about the role of suffering—she once told me, that while the circle of suffering is recurring, so is the cycle of breaking out of it—which we, or most of us, do over and over again. I wrote the first draft of this poem almost six days after the day being described in the poem. And with each draft, each of these strands came together. Some stayed, while I removed the others for aesthetic purposes and unity. Say, the whole portion about my cat has been omitted. So has an epigraph from the sayings of Nichiren Daishonin. But with each draft (and I wrote almost eleven of them), the abstract idea distilled into exact, accurate words. The idea of confronting our and our loved ones’ mortality, the recurrence of grief and the recurrence of our experiencing, accepting and triumphing over it became my take on addiction.
More importantly, I wanted to write something for her to commemorate her memory. And here I was, with “Grandmother Wouldn’t Be the Last”.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.