Poetry | ‘house-held-things’ by Sonali Pattnaik | Issue 41 (May, 2021)

‘house-held things’


she flaps the sheet like a mast
the bed a ship that she does not sail
she beats the dust out of the pillows
the mattress she heaves to the open
she spreads a garden of flowers every morning
and at night she is crushed, the flowers stain,
she will clean them out the next day,
a ship that never sails, a garden abloom by day


she dusts with rags and with ragged hands
the settling of days gone, upon things owned
wipes clean ceilings, fans that hang, low and high,
surfaces seen and unseen and from the corners of eyes
she spreads out stars on the skies of her children’s wet faces
dusts away anger in case it settles in their hearts
and tells them that it is a boat on a sea which they
think is the moon’s arc
sometimes they tell her she is wrong


she stirs and stirs like a witch all day
but has none of the potion’s power
she stirs sweetness into glasses of milk,
milks the goats, the packets of skimmed, she milks
her body thin till there isn’t a drop left
and fills emptiness anywhere with the warmth
of a fluid, bluish white
as she stirs and pours, and cuts and kneads
and kneels and burrows and fills
and the cream that is meant for her feet
remains untouched
feet go unnoticed on floral sheets,
feet, unlike milk, curdle from beneath


she weaves through space, she ferries bodies across
up and down, she moves round and round
the chairs are for arranging, not for sitting on,
even when she’s the only one playing
and the music has long stopped, she doesn’t win
she weaves laughter into her aching fingers
as she braids hair in the mornings,
coursing them through the tangles,
untangling pain, stitching up the hurts and wounds
in the evenings, embroidering the sealed skin
with a flower or two, unspooling
and then reeling in threads yet unbroken
tearing out others from the hem of a long day


she fills her hands, her nose, her nerves
with the scents of turmeric, oil, fish, wet earth,
rotten food, watery stools, neem leaves, curry leaves,
antibiotics, cooking gas, bathroom cleaning fluid, dung
soap and ink during the day and searches her memory
for the scent of dreams that she bundled into a knot
in the corner of the pillow she rests her head upon at night
the scent is something like dried tulsi leaves
She remembers to use a special concoction to rid her hand
of the smell of labour before he comes in
and locks the door from within. a scent of him
takes over everything


she builds the worlds that you win but when
she dusts the trophies that you brought home
having conquered that which you already own
she cannot recognize her face in the reflection-
it is deformed, caving
she gathers those silver and golden cups
and places them on shelves, the duster and keeper
of your history and while you engage with one of your kind
about histories myriad vagaries, they twinkle and shine,
and she rises to set the cups for tea


she pickles the small onions as they do
in fancy Chinese restaurants (where
only her husband orders the food)
and finds a jar to keep their red-purple within
and out of nowhere she often hears
her father’s praise of her mother’s cooking
she makes room for the relish on the table
she wipes her hands on a muslin and then
places the jar at the centre of things,
visible, insignificant, a parenthesis
jars do not reflect, only hold,
that which will soon be served as side-dish

Dr. Sonali Pattnaik is a poet, academic and visual artist based in Ahmedabad, India. She has an MPhil in English from Delhi University and a PhD in English  from Mumbai University and is (former) permanent Lecturer in English at Delhi University’s Kirori Mal College. She is currently visiting faculty at St. Xavier’s College Ahmedabad. Her poetry and artwork have most recently been published in The Kali Project (Indie Blu Publication, Pennsylvania, USA, 2021). Her poems have found homes (in print) in Journeys (Sampad, UK, 2010), and in online journals including, CafeDissensus, Muse IndiaWordgathering and Writer’s Asylum and her art most recently appeared in ‘Canvas Calling’ (The Shout Network, 2019).
Her academic publications include “Adaptation as ‘Becoming Other’. A Deleuzian Study of the film Omkara (V. Bhardwaj)” in In/dependence of Indian cinemas: Cartography of forms, genres and regions ed. Amandine D’Azevedo and Térésa Faucon, Paris: Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2016 and ” A Dramatic Film: Performative Politics in Peter Brook’s Mahabharata” in Narratives of Indian Cinema ed. Manju Jain, PRIMUS, New Delhi: 2009 among several others. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in journals including The Book Review (Harper Collins, India, 2016), Intersections (Murdoch, Australia), Tehelka and Women’s Web among others. 

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