Title: My Invented Land: New and Selected Poems
Author: Robin S Ngangom
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
Poem for Joseph It is never too late to come home. But I must first find a homeland where I can find myself, just a map or even a tree or a stone to mark a spot I could return to like an animal lifting his leg even when there’s nothing to return for. Although it’s true that in my native land children had crawled out of burrows they had gouged under their hard beds, long after the grownups had fled and roofs came apart like charred heads. You said you didn’t regret how ethnic cleansers had palmed your newly-built home off on a people well on their trail back to unique blood, you didn’t mind leaving behind objects of desire you had collected over twenty-five years, or, how you came to live in a rented room with your wife and children in dog-eat-dog Imphal, among the callous tribe I call my own. Only the photographs you mourned, the beloved sepia of a family tree, since you’re the reason why your fathers lived; but who’ll believe now that you lived at all? After ‘Jashn-e-Azadi’ (a film on Kashmir by Sanjay Kak) The kite transforming into smoke lacing the chinars is not a symbol. The rose has migrated from the garden of paradise. Freedom will never come poured into goblets waiting to be raised, Martyrdom is a handout from the hagiographer. Only poetry of ruins is real. The incoherent rose still blooms from some beloved breast torn open. The First Rain The first rain like the first letter of May brings news to the hills. Perched like the houses on the edge of a cliff I’ve lived more days in exile than years of my poor childhood. As a fumbling fifteen-year-old I abandoned my forward-looking native people who entrusted terror, drugs and a civilized plague to children. Is it better to rejoice and forget or to remember and be sad? Only a foolish boy cannot wait to be a man, adores winter, and leaves home to write poetry. After the holocaust became a touchstone we can indict an erring people and make culture and carnage co-exist. If I told you how babies have been shot down from their mothers’ breasts you would put it down to a poet’s overworked heart but we like to believe in leaders who flock to the capital An animal threatened with extinction needs a lair for his mate and his young, I’m not different. I need the morning for its bright blood and I need to seize the night. There was not a day that changed my days. When I listen to hills I hear the voices of my faded life. Whisky and Mehdi Hassan and Billie Holiday make for strange fruit on nondescript evenings. They can stop us but not our thoughts from coming out into the streets, they can shoot us but cannot kill the air which carries our voices. O my love, you are still asleep when the rain carries the night till dawn. After lying down with dreams of you I awake in another day of bread and newspapers. I’m banished to the last outpost of a dying empire whose keepsakes have become the artefacts of the natives: necklaces, pianos, lace and tombstones. I’ve pursued horoscopes and only promises and maledictions pursue me. One day Venus was mine, joy and honey, another day Saturn would not be propitiated. I found a moment’s peace in my little daughter’s face. Before I met you my dreams were limited by ignorance. Sometimes at night I put two drops of our past in my eyes but they refused to close. Can poetry be smuggled like guns or drugs? We’ve drawn our borders with blood. Even to write in our mother tongue we cut open veins and our tongues lick parchments with blood. I read my smuggled Neruda and sometimes listen to the fading fiddles and the mourning voices of my land. I’m the anguish of slashed roots, the fear of the homeless, and the desperation of former kisses. How much land does my enemy need? O my love, why did you fade into the obscurity of my life and leave me to look long at the mountain? I’m the pain of slashed roots and the last rain is already here. I’ll leave the cracked fields of my land and its weeping pastures of daybreak. Let wolves tear our beloved hills. I’ll leave the bamboo flowering in the groves of my childhood. Let rats gnaw at the supine map of what was once my native land. Native Land First came the scream of the dying in a bad dream, then the radio report, and a newspaper: six shot dead, twenty-five houses razed, sixteen beheaded with hands tied behind their backs inside a church… As the days crumbled, and the victors and their victims grew in number, I hardened inside my thickening hide, until I lost my tenuous humanity. I ceased thinking of abandoned children inside blazing huts still waiting for their parents. If they remembered their grandmother’s tales of many winter hearths at the hour of sleeping death, I didn’t want to know, if they ever learnt the magic of letters. And the women heavy with seed, their soft bodies mowed down like grain stalk during their lyric harvests; if they wore wildflowers in their hair while they waited for their men, I didn’t care anymore.
Extracted from My Invented Land: New and Selected Poems by Robin S. Ngangom. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2023.
About the Book
Robin S. Ngangom’s poetry is the poetry of feeling, which draws the reader deep into the poet’s world. The poems in My Invented Land showcase Ngangom’s remarkable range—tracing his poetic arc from the deeply personal to the political, from chronicles of private joys, sorrows and everyday epiphanies to the poetry of witness that gazes unflinchingly at the realities that haunt the Northeast, his native land.
About the Author
Born in 1959 in Imphal, Manipur, Robin S. Ngangom is a bilingual poet and translator who writes in English and Manipuri. After completing his high school in Imphal he studied English literature at Shillong’s St Edmund’s College and the North-Eastern Hill University where he currently teaches. His first collection, Words and the Silence, was published in 1988 and since then, he has published two more volumes of poetry and a book of translations. He was invited to the UK Year of Literature and Writing in 1995, has read his poems at literary events in India and abroad, and his poems have appeared in several prestigious anthologies and magazines. He has also co-edited two significant anthologies of poetry from Northeast India.
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