Poems by Jhilmil Breckenridge 2016

 Jhilmil BreckenridgeJHILMIL BRECKENRIDGE is a poet, writer and activist who speaks out about mental health, incarceration and abuse. She has just completed her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster. Her poems often worry about issues of feeling lost in a changing world, the immigrant or foreign experience, love and loss and longing, and nostalgia for times gone by. She is Fiction Editor for a South Asian literary magazine, Open Road Review. She is working on her first novel and when she is not writing, she is chasing clouds and rainbows with her iPhone.

Day 30


patience is the expanse between two breaths
and the pause between waves on the ocean

patience is a mother watching her toddler eat
when she knows she can feed him faster

patience is your fingers trailing on your lover’s thigh
and just watching her swell

patience is a glistening dewdrop on a blade of grass
waiting to fall onto parched earth

patience is the all encompassing yawn of the Universe
or impatient 10 year old Anna watching her cake rise in the oven

patience is the sheen on a river stone in the ganges
or the breath of the murano glass blower in italy

patience is the bud blooming to a luscious hibiscus
and each round of the swirling, whirling dervish

patience is a single breath, a single song, a single lifetime
patience is you, patience is me, patience is birth and patience is death

patience is acceptance, patience is grace
patience is love, patience is pain

patience is watching the breath
patience is expecting bliss

Day 29


Faith was given
To endure suffering

Rainbows help us
To wade through rain

The light at the end of the tunnel
Oh, why is life so hard?

Every cloud
has a silver lining

And after the darkest night
the brightest dawn

We grow with these proverbs
To help us make meaning of life

And heaven, too
A mythical reward for suffering

But heaven is right here, right now
You just have to believe

And the flip side of suffering is joy
And rain is made for dancing in

Tunnels are a break from the noisy highway
And have you seen anything as pretty as a cloud?

Dark nights are magical
Velvety kisses of silk on skin

So, to all the inventors of proverbs, here is a new one:
Heaven is a state of mind.

Day 27

What makes an artist?

When all around you, men are losing their heads
When all around you, men run like hamsters on a wheel
When all around you, men are chasing money

And you sit, dextrously rearranging your tools
Time having lost all meaning
In the quest of a single paragraph of prose

When all around you, people fret and worry
When all around you, people are losing control
When all around you, people’s egos are bigger than their hearts

And you stare, wondering why
And you can only love
And you can’t be bothered to fight

When all around you, people compromise
When all around you, people do the bare minimum
When all around you, people cheat and scam

And you can only see black and white
And choices are so clear
And you carry on in your quest

When the journey matters more than the destination
When every moment is full of life, beauty and grace
When pain and joy are equally welcome

You have arrived
The path of the artist has brought you here
And you will rejoice forever

Day 26

Being a Woman in Spring

Spring has sprung me into action
Time to get out of traction

As the buds bloom
And dispelled is winter’s gloom

Life abounds
Work off winter’s pounds

The chocolate on my belly
Or the crisps watching telly

It’s time to shed the layers
Swimsuit please fit, are my prayers

Coral tips on my toes
As I strike a pose

Channeling Rihanna or Lana del Ray
Oh but why do I so much weigh?

Spring smells of freshly mown grass
And of frisbees in the park pass

Shave my legs, scrub that booty
It’s time to get fruity

Put away the granny panties
Let’s run through the shanties

Spring, oh glorious spring
Why do you so much work bring?


Set an intention

Connect with the earth

Give gratitude

Feel the connection of earth, sky and body

Feel how the earth stretches

Come back to the breath


Adho mukha swanasana
Know the duality of everything

Why struggle?

You are stronger than you know

Just be



We are all water, she said
Just water; flow, darling
No resistance, no struggle

Like the ocean tides
Waxing and waning
With the moon

Or the werewolf
and vampire
Howling at the moon

Just water, just energy
When we realise
How everything is linked

And all the hurting in our bodies
Is reflected in Earth
And the moon gets scarred

With our pain
She said, Sister, Blessed be
And surrender

And yet, when she calls
And I feel the restlessness
Of spirit

Or the aching in my being
My rational mind
Wants to ignore the calling

But as full moon draws near
I find myself, as if on cue
Bathing in salted water

Cleansing, preparing
Rituals as old as time herself
And as I light a candle

To the brilliance of the moon
I feel her
And know.

We are one

letting go

when you can tune in
to the present

to the softness of the
persian carpet
under your bare

and the coolness
of the hard
granite floor

when you can observe
yourself as a witness
and just watch
the journey

when you can hear
in silence

when your breath
tells you
all you need
to know

when tiny
drops of water
falling off a leaf
are music

when birdsong
fills you with joy
and lightness

and you can smell
freshly mown grass
as you cross the road

when all that matters
is the now

you will realise
all the pleasures
of the world
are in the grasp
of your hand

and you will

let go

Day 21


If you find yourself waking in a subway tunnel
If you ache to smell the familiar, but cannot
If you get used to begging, biases changing now
If family becomes Timothy, the drug dealer

And because you can still remember your pink bed
Because you once were like the ones you see above
Because your eyes once pitied the man on the street
Because you can still taste the garam masala

Because remembrances are now eulogies
Because your daughter’s scribbles pinned on the fridge
Are fading like a crayon painted sidewalk
You go back to your space in the sun, waiting

Veils Of Illusion Have Lifted

Veils of illusion have lifted
Not possible to love and part
Or to crush the voice of the heart
Whether the bodies have drifted

Moved home or continent shifted
Near cities or countries apart
Veils of illusion have lifted
Not possible to love and part

Your mind searches for truth sifted
So that you can your future chart
Unstoppable after its start
Love is a melody gifted
Veils of illusion have lifted

Coming Up For Air

Floating, like a specimen,
in a bell jar in the Chemistry Lab
of Grade XI in Lucknow.

I am suspended. I am floating.

Everywhere is blue.

I hear bubbles and see them rise.

I open my mouth and water rushes in,
salty and warm. I can’t speak.
I can’t cry out.

I am drowning.

I think of Varanasi; skulls
that float. Why do dead
skulls float? Why do the living

I want to rise. The sea
is inky black. An octopus
floats by. A school of clown
fish gaze at me curiously.

I think of swimming
like the fish in a warm ocean
in the Andaman Sea. I hear
laughter, I feel the sun on my

Oh, the sun. I miss the sun.
I crave heat. It is so very
cold. It is so very cold.

I feel something warmer
on my lower back. I look.
A dolphin is smiling.
Yes, smiling!

I look down at myself.

I am a mermaid!
My hair is blonde, my waist
is tiny, and my breasts
are encased in shells.

I laugh gleefully.
The dolphin, as if on cue,
swims below me
and I mount him.

And then, like we have been
doing this since time immemorial,
our bodies in sync,
we float upwards.

Joy abounds. An effervescence,
a lightness of spirit, a playfulness
that heals.

The water is getting warmer
and paler. We playfully swim
with all the time in the world.

And as I surface for the air
that I don’t need,
I am full of peace.

Day #18

The Music Of Chocolate Clouds Over The Collarbone Of The Marina

today the world is brown
i see his brown
fingers on my brown stomach
as i wake
and the coffee
fragrant clouds
over muddy brown
as the coffee grounds settle
in the cafetiere

today the world is brown
the muddy ground
from last night’s rains
the grass looks defeated
but still rises
the humble daisies
are flecked with brown

today the world is brown
the river beckons
my feet pedal
of their own accord
my cycle joyous
with movement
the river is brown
the ducks seem
but carry on
leaving a triangular
brown wake

today the world is brown
the clouds are chocolate
the marina is a woman
the boats are her jewels
sinewy, seductive
she flows
the waterbirds are
beads of sweat
as she moves
her collarbone glistens
and her belly is full

today the world is brown
the music of the marina
lures me
and i lean in
the whispering rushes
the wind in the willows
the lapping of the waves
as they kiss the boats
the raucous geese
the sound of my breathing
faster as my cycle
picks up pace

today the world is brown
and as the chocolate
clouds hover
and the marina
i turn around
to go home
to my brown man
in my brown house
through muddy brown

Day 17

Can You Hear Them?
The morning breeze brings me stories
Of the cherry blossom’s glories

Wafting, wandering, secretive
Always holding my soul captive

Sometimes telling tales of cooking
Garlic, pound cake, overcooking

Or carrying music and notes
Chopin, piano strains, untrained throats

Sometimes, the breeze is warm, balmy
Who wants a holiday? Ah me!

Carrying the sun on her breast
Bringing the message, we are blessed

Sometimes, the breeze is kissed by rain
My heart rejoices, I can’t feign

If you listen, stories are clear
Bringing your soul much needed cheer

So tune into the morning breeze
And watch the years go by with ease

Day #16


It is delicious with crackers, and with a spot
of wine. It melts, your tongue feeling a hot
Indian summer, your nostrils filling with a
scent of a hundred flowers in Kashmir.
You hear mandolins over a river, and
you see everything more clearly.
Food, sex, chocolate, and love
all do that, you see. You don’t
need to travel far at all.

Day #15

In response to CD Wright’s poem, “Our Dust”

I was the poet of short-tailed cats and yellow
line paint.
Of satellite dishes and Peterbilt trucks. Red Man
—C. D. Wright

What We Leave Behind. Or Don’t.

I am your ancestor. You know
nothing about me.
Because there is no need
for you to know my faint upper lip
hair. Or the mole on my hairline.
Or my favourite perfume. Or
my favourite flower.

You didn’t know what made me
cry. I was the poet on the run,
of cycling by the marina, the
eavesdropper of magical
conversations on the underground.
I was the poet of biryani
joints, unsmoked cigarettes
and lovers like tattoos.

A poet of shrinking violet
and delicate sweet peas
trailing on the green trellis
behind the garage. Of whisky,
of purple mascara, of mini skirts
and boots. Of Camden Town and
India and everything in between.

I was the poet of mermaids
and unicorns. The poet of impossible
hope and unerring faith. Of open
mikes and poetry slams. Of kohl
lined eyes and palms of henna
in a world of blue jeans and white
shirts and blonde hair.

The future didn’t matter to me. After
a while, the past didn’t either.
I loved to say, in every breath
we die, in every breath we are

I don’t expect you to know me. You,
of designer clothes, fancy cars
and a house in the right neighbourhood.
I agreed to be the poet who lived
in this one breath. Believing
that we only remember one life.
I have seen myself in the black
car. I have seen the retreat
of the black car. I have smelled
the lilies at the grave.

Chasing The Sun

I see the sun caught in the crest of a wave
And in the glint of a dewdrop

I feel the sun caressing my skin as I ride
On my bare shoulders, on my arms

I hear the sun hissing
Where sun meets water and water meets sun

I taste the sun laughing on my tongue
Hot chilli pepper on raw mango

I smell the sun in freshly laundered sheets
Lying restless, watching the moon travel by my window

Do we circle the sun or does it follow us?
Sunshine in songs, sunshine in flowers

Sunshine on tears, sunshine after the haze
I choose to see the sun on the darkest days

The Water Offering

I carry the ancient brass pot to the grey stream
below the bridge. The sky is shot with fire
and salmon, and the trees are Japanese
watercolours. The hem of my white nightgown

is sodden with dew and is getting tinged with
mud. I kneel in the river stones, and lower the pot
into the freezing cold water, the strength of the current
taking me by surprise. I fill it to the brim, and carefully walk

to a big rock from where I can see the sun as it rises
over the water. I place the brass pot at my feet and lift
my face to the sun, grateful for another day of being,
my hands raise above my head, my arms bent,

and I join my palms in prayer. With closed eyes, my lips
move in an ancient rhythm, but words unknown
to me emanate. My body is full of peace and I open
my eyes, and bend down to pick up the brass pot,

it’s ancient designs glinting and reflecting the orange sun.
I lift the pot reverentially, facing the sun, and let the water
pour in a thin trickle, chanting an unfamiliar prayer.
The water is pearls and diamonds, liquid silver,

and the sun watches and receives approvingly. The sun
gets brighter as if fed by the water I offer, kissing
my face with warmth and life. As the pot empties,
I slowly walk home. A tree root catches my foot,

and I stumble, banging my head on the trunk of a tree.
I pass out. When I wake, the sun is high in the sky,
and my lilac sheets are crumpled from the night. I open
my eyes to the Cross on my wall and the Bible

on my nightstand. But in my head, some ancient words echo,
and why is the hem of my nightgown muddy?

The Professor
I yearn for the familiar tang of mango pickle

and the taste of sweet, spiced ginger teas

in a country of sausage, mash and peas
I yearn for smoke tinged kisses on the inside of my thigh,

his calloused fingertips playing a melody on my collarbone;

my body answering like the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
I yearn for the youth I consumed and inhaled,

like a McDonald’s burger on midnight runs

on all those pub crawls with nameless strangers.
I dream of a house filled with the music of a gurgling river,

smoky barbecues, endless summer days and strappy dresses,

of laughter, love, and a thousand possibilities.
Time teaches us well, killing us all as we learn;

Some of us are unwilling pupils, dragging our heels

But we are all headed to the same end.
I inhale and exhale and find I need nothing in this breath,

No mango pickle, no ginger tea, no gurgling river, no summer;

all I need is this breath, and then I let go, dying and rebirthing.
All yearning vanishes, all dreaming vanishes, all pain vanishes

And the Professor that is Time nods and approves

As he holds my hand and patiently takes me home.

The cemetery

Comfort for those left behind

Or an ode to the dead


The butterfly

Flitting on the tulip

Does not care about death


Spring blossoms

A joyous riot of colour

A lesson in living


Teddy bears at graves

Chilling sights

Lives snuffed before lived


as the morning breeze wafts
over jasmine and bela

and the parakeets roost
in guava trees

and the slant of the mango tree
welcomes the sun on dewdrops

i hear the call to prayer and my heart supplicates
my body trembles and i kneel

my hands fold in prayer
my fingers run over the holy beads

and as my mind surrenders
to words as old as time is told

i feel the rivulets of sweat down my back
my body continuing it’s dance of offering

and as i hear the raucous chatter of the birds
and the sounds of the house stirring

i give thanks for another morning
and give in to the pleasure of being

Glosa: There is a war going on in my country

There is a war going on in my country.
In all the years I have lived in this body, there has been no peace.
My mother still has hope in her heart, she keeps a suitcase packed just in case.
This whole life we have been waiting for our flight to be called.
-Warsan Shire, War Poem

Will you turn your gaze?
When all around, students are being labeled terrorists
When all around, the rich buy their way out of jail
When the politics of religion is more lucrative
Than the politics of peace
When parents bribe to get their son’s college entry
When women are raped in buses
And men and children slaughtered for eating beef
And honour killings are done by the gentry
There is a war going on in my country

This body revolts, this body protests
The news on the television drones
While I try and swallow cinnamon scented oatmeal
All I smell are charred bodies in Palestine
And the smell of the sea, rocking boats of refugees
And as I cozy up in my softest fleece
I am chilled to see Afghan children freeze
My fingers on the remote like a believer working a rosary
But every channel has images of politicians and military police
In all the years I have lived in this body, there has been no peace

My mother prays, my mother believes
She says everything passes like storms in the night
At 63, she has seen war and peace
Disease and death, poverty and hunger
Her voice is softer, her eyes still burn bright
Though she has seen activists vanish without a trace
And entire shanty towns razed in a single night
And while a Christian woman in Pakistan is sent to the gallows
For being unfit to fetch water for the Muslim race
My mother still has hope in her heart, she keeps a suitcase packed just in case

This whole life, we wait
We wait for peace
We wait for food
We wait for democracy
We wait for the end of patriarchy

All the while, the innocent get mauled
And still, we wait
When will we start acting?
When will we get appalled?
This whole life we have been waiting for our flight to be called

My Grandmother Looks Through The Window

The amaltas tree is in full bloom
Yellow blossoms scatter the driveway
More sweeping, more cleaning

The house sleeps
The tea nourishes me, kissed by cardamom
And I pore over my desk, checking my list

Snapshots on my desk take me home
Lahore, long foregone, but never forgotten
Sisters, friends, lovers, places, food galore

I smooth my long hair, dyed just the way he likes it
And check the time for the Indian Women’s Congress meeting
And add another item to my list

The crows are raucous today
Maybe another small dead animal
Or maybe they are foretelling doom

I wonder what my sister, Shakira, sees through her window
Does she see amaltas or can she still smell the jasmine
From last night?

The house stirs, tea to be made for him
Food to be organised, laundry to be sorted
I push back my chair and rise

Haiku on orange

orange swirling free
the world is all confusion
and yet, my heart delights

Spice Jars

Ten jars of spices on the kitchen shelf
Stare balefully at me
Ten jars of spices on the kitchen shelf

I try to resist
I try to look away
The colours, the textures
And God forbid, should I open a jar,
The scents

Ten jars of spices; turmeric, chilli pepper,
cinnamon, star anise, and cumin
Whisper my name through the colanders
And the sieves

I walk to the cinnamon, open the jar defiantly
The heady aroma takes me
To being five years old
In my grandma’s kitchen

Her smell, her long braid, her pink shawl
My hand clutching hers
The thak-thak-thak of the mortar and pestle
Echoing my heartbeat

I hurriedly close the cinnamon jar
I don’t want mascara lines down my cheeks
And open the friendly turmeric
Healing, orange turmeric, medicine countless times

The time my nose piercing got infected, turmeric
The time I had a sore throat, ginger, turmeric and honey
The time after a surgery, milk and turmeric
The body heals, the spices know

Eight other jars of spices regard me coolly
Which one will I open next?
I want to be strong, I want to resist
But find star anise in my hand

I crush a pod between my thumb and forefinger
I am transported to Thailand
To when I still had a family
When the words Mom meant something

I shake my head, put the star anise back in the jar
No, no, no, you cannot entice me, not today
I shut the lids of the jars and walk to the living room
Ten photographs on the mantlepiece gaze at me

River Stones

Water laps gently
and kisses the stone wetly
The oval, flat, grey

stone, polished by years
from being tossed around in
the sea, smooth as a

well worn wedding ring.
The stone a testimony
to enduring pain

and struggle. It’s hues,
purple, silver, blue and black,
dance through it’s body

like victors after
a battle. The stone lies
in the sun, on the

shore, resting as the
cool water caresses it.
The light catches the

silver, shimmering,
dancing joyously, in the
pleasure of being.

Who’s Watching Who?

Everywhere I look, there are windows. Windows

to gaze out of. Windows to look into. Windows

that reflect. Windows that repel. Windows

that pull you in. Windows you covet. Windows

you are horrified by. Windows with curtains. Windows

with blinds. Windows with untidy stacks of books. Windows

with a sleeping cat. Windows with plants. Windows

with art. Gleaming windows. Dirty windows

with sticky fingerprints of children. Fogged up, steamy windows.

Windows you could just walk through. Windows

that are barred. Windows that are shuttered.

Naked windows. Just windows.

And as I look in, and the watcher looks out,

the watched becomes the watcher.

Confusion abounds. Where does my reality end

and the reflection begin? And is the figure

in the mirror me, or am I being


Ode to a Tree

Let me be a tree
Rooted to life
Rooted to the earth

My arms raised
In prayer

My spine strong
Like the trunk

My hair home
To sparrows
And larks

My skirt green grass
Where children

All of me
To the sky

Let my colours change
With the season

Let me be a tree
Celebrating creation
But also: death–


Her heart is soot
Heavy and thick
You can taste the grit
Blacker than coal

Her hips are the earth
Vibrant orange
Fertile, decadent
A celebration

Her stomach
is wounded
She bleeds
She hurts
She shuts
her heart

More grief
More soot
More grit

But as her hips sway
The colours blur
And the edge
of pain

Glimpses Over The Marina

A breeze kisses the water
A duck, glistening green neck,
Glides by, triangular wake trailing

Three geese waddle on the bank
Full of their own importance
And two swallows swoop low and dart high

The geese honk
The duck glides
The boats are moored

And I sit by the marina

Two cyclists ride past
Their grey helmets contrasting with a brilliant yellow anorak
Their cockney accents, their murmured good morning

And still I sit
Watching my body sit by the marina

They watch me
As I watch them

And we are all one