Poems on Incarceration and Acid Attacks by Jhilmil Breckenridge


Image courtesy stamptoscana.it




Lakshmi’s Eyes

Only the eyes remain as they were.
The rest of her face is ravaged
by acid. Acid thrown by two
boys on a cycle. Just
another dare.

She combs her long hair carefully. Plaits it
neatly away from her face. No curtain of hair
to hide behind. Puts a bindi in the battleground
of keloids, scars and uncooked skin. She wears
them well.

The boys genuflect in a temple, mothers kissing
saffron kerchief covered heads
before they gel their hair
and go on another prowl. This is what
men do, you see.

Lakshmi puts another layer
of cream on her burns and then stands
behind a beauty counter selling bindis
and lipsticks to girls with unblemished faces,
like their eyes. Like her eyes.



If you stare out of a window
Across a bleak garden some September morning
If the neem tree in the garden reminds you of home
Vast, old, timeless
If you remember playing under a neem tree in Allahabad
And you can almost hear the laughter of children as they play
In the heat of a sultry afternoon in June
And because the window is small and barred and cannot open
Because you want to breathe freedom
Because you want to shower without them watching
Because you silently swallow your screams
Because your mind is starting to get fuzzy
Because your tongue is starting to slur
Because you have started drooling
Because your fingers shake when you write
Because the words Ritalin Prozac Depakote Lithium
Have started sounding like poetry
Because you feel your resistance slowly dying
Because you start to say the words they want to hear
Because you know the glazed look in the eyes of others
Is in your eyes too
Because this confluence of muscle and bone is wasting
Because you sleep for hours
Because you now smile at your doctors
Because you scream when the ECT paraphernalia is wheeled in
Because no one cares
Because once you’re labeled, you will be forever
Because asylums were once freak shows
Because asylum is not what it means
You go back to staring


Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist who speaks out about mental health, incarceration and abuse.

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