TWI Poetry: Bathing an Old Woman

Basudhara Roy

Coming to an old woman’s body
is like coming to the end of the earth.
A rainforest weary of plunder
shrinks here to autumnal renunciation.

In her, an ancient monument
standing erect to generations of awe 
seeks anonymity, dissolution.
The face rises and sets with the sun. 

The bones’ currency spent, they look
for reasons to succumb to gravity.
Decalcified, they fantasize oxidation,
seek conch-like the sea in dreams.

In her soil, smells become fossils. 
Ammonia breath meets the sourness
of sweat under armpit, breasts, folds of belly,
giving way to fishy seaweed between her thighs.

An old woman’s body is a tree wise in fall,
stoical, indifferent to what it relinquishes.
It is also the wide earth-floor cradles all
looking for tether, balm, snug homes after death.

Her skin is an oversized blanket for bones
eager for sleep so that prodding it means nothing.
An old woman is a touch-me-not folding up,
an era silting, settling to history’s dusk. 

When you splash water, soap the indifference
on her back, she suddenly awakens. Peel off
her gathered chalk-dust of struggle, betrayal,
loss and she is light, lushly born anew.

Water running down her scalp reminds her
of truth, she says. She would rather live by
illusion, let things be in disarray, keep her hair
unbrushed, an offering to time’s chaos.

And that is how each morning her bath leads her
on a journey from oblivion into life, from sleep
to awakening, from forgetting to memory,
her mortal ruins thirsty to lap up the sun. 

Her aridity looms too large for exorcism,
her homelessness is too earnest
for rehabilitation, her emptiness
always too occupied to allow tenancy. 

And so years later in another city on another
bed when you stir in morning sleep at seven,
you are not surprised by an old woman haunching
across your pupils, hoarsely calling to be bathed.

Basudhara Roy teaches English at Karim City College affiliated to Kolhan University, Chaibasa. Her latest poems are featured in The Woman Inc., Madras Courier, Lucy Writers Platform, Berfrois, Gitanjali and Beyond and The Aleph Review among others. Her recent (second) collection of poems is Stitching a Home (New Delhi: Red River, 2021). She loves, rebels, writes and reviews from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, India.

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