POETRY AND VERSE
Malini was a prolific 'non-writer', in her own modest words.
This is a collection of her poetry and verse, most of it unpublished.
Many of these works are taken from her handwritten notebooks and presented in unedited form.
A collaborative piece
Words by Malini Mohana
Photography by Punam Dave
He took my hues, my spectrums of being, left an unwashed pallor on my skin. Can you see me, between the seconds that I blink? The part of me that unfolds and contracts in limpid pools of molten. This is my reservoir of silence, my vacuum that swallows each memory whole before I glimpse it anywhere near my periphery. Stripped of meaning, of weapons, disappearing faster than it appeared...
I wandered into you,
You, who were cluttered rooms of childhood homes,
Treading softly, fingers grazing edges that changed in shadow
Your face, an ancient familiarity,
Accidentally purposeful, the way you smiled, and I thought of
Gravity and light and echoes of old voices,
We descended on our world like a winter's night, slow
Then all at once,
Words lost in singularity, in vestigial remarks of our histories,
And I admit with some regret that I could never
Climb into your mind, though I tried,
In wanton arrogance
So I retreated into my own, only to find you waiting
Descending with a winter's night,
The embers of our collision glowing on your sheets.
You’re the darkness in the sky, that couches the stars. The wind between the leaves. The silence between the riffs. You’re the seconds that write lifetimes. The letters in words, one after the other, weaving stories without me realising.
You. The smell of your neck
I cannot see the world through your chest
The ebb and flow
through my hands
So surprised I am to find you
Flesh, blood and bones in my arms
That I sometimes turn away,
Your potent object
Your suffocating depths
Full of tentacles and filth
She didn’t walk on air. She walked on the ground, steadily and sure, parting men and molecules, hated unconditionally. I can’t recall if she ever smiled. She hinted at it, one side of her mouth raised, constantly waiting for the punchline to be dropped. I had spent months with her. Like a young child, I needed her to see me in the way that she saw others. After every interaction I walked away with my chest dissolving into my gut, re-evaluating my use of the English. There were days that I wished I could simply stare at her. I remember the specks of gold in her hair, the hint of a dimple, the way her laugh streamed like liquid silver, blah blah. A cliché. The limerence oozing off me like department store deodorant. She was warm, but always just out of reach. Like trying to capture a scent. Memories of me running after her fragrance with a mason jar. Like a child. Like a man. She went on to do some exceptional stuff. Wrote a book. A passport full of stamps, candid photos of her filtered on my screens. Perhaps I wanted the chance to see her imperfect, to see her tired eyes in the morning, to smell her hair two days unwashed, her unshaved legs, her hair undone and unkempt. That’s what I thought. Or perhaps I wanted to be chosen by the need of my limerence. Perhaps I wanted her to give me some of her perfect.
HAPPY WOMEN’S DAY, MR PRESIDENT
Happy Women’s Day, Mr President.
As the elections simmered over, the unexpected happens.
Four black women. And I say black because it’s important. I say black because the plight of women of colour, their importance in social and political priority is virtually unheard. I say black because their blackness, and their womanness, allowed men to manhandle them as they were pushed out. As the ANC yelled for a “security breach”. It is only in their status as women of colour.
Rape and protests against rape are bigger than politics. It is the duty of the public and the constitution to protect the vulnerable from politicians.
The moment those women stood in front of Zuma, they became bigger than politics. They spoke the name of the woman whose name Zuma tried to erase. Every woman. They stood silently against authority and held four mirrors to South Africa.
1 in 3 – Our fate.
Nothing – Our fault.
Khwezi – her name. Our name.
There are those who repelled and insulted. Their patriarchy bulging in their pants as they splayed self-righteousness. But I suppose I too would feel self-righteousness if the mirror made me appear a monster.
In this country there is no feminism without black feminism. The response shows your fear in face of four brave women, who stood in front of authority.
I would be worried too, Mr President.
Happy Women’s Day.
Our story is about you. Everything about us is you. We are the educated and the articulate. We are the inadequate, the insecure, pointless perfection. We are the self-inflicted neuroses, the volunteered loneliness, the worthless abortions of excess and pride. We are the searchers for a baseless meaning, for a witness to our existence. We walk quietly, we speak quietly. And when we speak loudly, it is because we hopelessly hope for a change that we do not fully understand. We hope to connect, to touch, to love. But we can’t. Because we are the inadequate. We scratch despairingly at an idea of normality, but graze only the mundane. We mist the earth like a meaningless dream, at times waiting to fade. But we try. We try fucking hard. We are the everyperson.
We are you.
The parts of us
We leak out of old photographs
Leaving puddles for
Old women to clean
Seen only by those
That cannot afford blinds
There is a photo of us, quietly on the mantlepiece. Walking in dusty green,
We were holding hands.
“Yes, I loved that photo,” you once told me
“But you were never in it.”
You spoke words that drenched
Walls and permeated hair
The days when I imagine;
The windows reveal the
Timely order of the living
When I tire
It is a funnel of chaos
I am tired a lot
I once stole your scent
Caught it in a glass jar
Walked with the tiny steps
of a child and her firefly
I put you in a box with a lock
I see you every day now
I open the box to
That I do
I missed her in the way I missed autumn. I would walk and the leaves wouldn’t crunch. Sandwiches without the gold of butter. I feel her sometimes. Just a layer of skin away – sitting quietly in the centre of my equilibrium.
I created you
In the delicate way I create
Stories of lives that exist for no one,
I grew you in my jar
Adorned your skin with
Hieroglyphics of my past lived silently
I claimed my name through you
Found in your kiss, the taste of my own mouth
I created you in the deliberate ways I create lies
But I grow weary of my lies
Dropping them one by one into my collection
Maybe I will find you there someday
I see you my love, in the twisted bending of my nerves
The blue-white charge of firing neurons
I see your bursting light in my morbid heartbeats
I see you through one-way mirrors of distortion, bland
Strange and lonely and ugly. I grew tired of your reflection and you left me.
Except when I lift my hand, you do too.
You liked watching the flurry of my pen
Poetry and prose, created and consumed
Heroes folded gently into
First person narratives
You demanded I write you
I took my pen and
Inked you, more than a man, just short of immortal
You rose into the air,
higher and higher
You felt the illusion of eyes on you
The reverence of unmet glory days
You consumed it
I kept writing
To see how high I could make you rise
I knew I would run out of ink.
I felt the rounded curve of her hip, the colour of her, the galaxy of freckles through which I saw a universe. I noticed the heat of her body, the scent of her skin, the way her eyes lead me into blue depths, and watched me drown. I noticed the sharpness of her jaw when she leant in, when she turned away. The warmth of her breath against the back of my neck, her hands on my hips as I felt the length of her against me. I remember the way we used each other, to become different people, how we clutched onto each other with it was over. As though we were going to drift away from ourselves. As though we needed a witness to keep us bolted.
She showed up
So that I could disappear
Into the place I built
For which she has the key.
Clutching my lower back
My breath escaped in bursts
I was a spectre of someone else,
In beauty and grace
Showing her how
To be a fraud.
In breathy echoes
Afterwards, I held her body
So I wouldn’t drift away
For a few hours, I wouldn’t
See my mirage
So that I could disappear
Into the folds of her skin and the crease of her mouth.
Disappear into the place I built, for which she
Has the key
Clutching at my hips, pulling,
Pushing, breath escaped in
Quick bursts of honey and
Cinnamon scattered across
Her back in freckles
I connected them, wrote a new name,
A new trajectory
Showed her how
To be a fraud.
Afterwards I held her body. Anchored
So I wouldn’t drift away from myself.
She arrived so that
I wouldn’t disappear
Cloaked in the lie of promises
In the fraud of forevers
Skin beating life into
Hearts, hands melting hips
In the glow of hot embers
Burning my bed, spread
In the quick bursts of her
Bodies spelling out lives that
Had ashes to give, floating
Off in the aquiline of her iris.
I held on so I wouldn’t
drift away from myself.
I didn’t plan on falling in love with you. Just one day at 4am we were laughing too hard and walking too slow, and suddenly my hand felt just right in yours.
I didn’t plan to hate you. Just one day at 7am we were leaving too fast, slamming doors too loud and I could no longer understand your words.
I didn’t plan on speaking to you. But you looked up, the drops on the window playing shapes on your face, and asked me my name. And the rumble of the rain masked our laughter.
I didn’t plan on seeing you. I told you that. You said bye to be softly and hugged me a second too long before walking away. So I called you back. I knew.
I didn’t find you attractive. Until one day, I saw you reading on the floor, alone. Happy. So I kissed you then.
Dewdrops toucher her skin, soft as a whisper, barely there but for the glow it left behind. The smile, the echo of a tingle, as though I had said something funny in her ear. She looked like that all the time. As though in the chaos and in the mundane, she kept a secret of a different self and a different place that only she was privy to. Many found her annoying. Cloying and clingy like a cheap perfume. That’s what Ben said anyhow, after they had broken up. She continues to smile at him, send him sincere messages, wave at him from the corridors. It was as though she was completely porous, and sadness would just seep out of her within hours, leaving space for dewdrops to land softly on her skin. I suppose I had wished for that kind of quiet conviction. That kind of unabashed hopefulness an unapologetic confidence. I suppose that’s why I called her cheap perfume too. It’s hard when someone else has the audacity to like themselves. Pisses the rest of us off. Even as the smell of her skin was couched in the fibres of my pillows, the scent of her hair in my sheets, even though I had found the copper of her hair, wispy ringlets in my jersey – even though it tightened around my neck and made me see stars, I called her cheap perfume.
Sometimes it hurts to let the world in. To see everything that it is, in its cruel and passionate beauty, in its pockets of compassion, flowing like rains into its heart. It’s hard to see it when all you’ve been seeing is yourself, staring back at yourself.
Black lines and silver stars and trees that stood like giant beggars, arms departing to the sky. Ashes flying off of them. Perhaps it would be easier to burn than wither. The baby screamed and screamed. She closed her eyes tightly for a second, the creases on her brow deepening. As if the tighter she closed her eyes. Recalcitrant. Sonorous.
It was her vulnerability that caught me. The way she would spill her feelings across the table, and smile gently as it dripped off the edges. The way she would laugh at my indifference. The more time I spent with her, the more I craved that vulnerability. We don’t want to be challenged, we don’t want to be in intimidated. We have no appetite for the cruel and indifferent. We simply have an insatiable need for vulnerability. Anyone but our own. We want the permission to love, and admit love.
The days go
With the flow of a slow
Ride, spent trying to
The day falls with the
Speed of a mockingbird
Shot silently in mid-air, wings
Stiffened, a single black dot
The days sigh with the
Rustles of a thousand trees,
I try to hear what they
Say but catch only
The days darken, sudden, stuttering
Out like a switch, a fuse
While I sit in darkness,
Wishing for the fluorescence
Of the day.
These are original works by Malini Mohana, collected from online profiles, digital and handwritten notebooks.
Where works are works-in-progress, they have been presented in unedited form.
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