Poems by Jhilmil Breckenridge 2017

Jhilmil newJHILECKENRIDGE is a poet, writer and activist. She is passionate about issues of women, disability, and mental health. Jhilmil is currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. She is Fiction Editor for South Asian leading literary journal, Open Road Review (openroadreview.com) and is Editor for thewomaninc.com, an initiative highlighting women’s issues of abuse and domestic violence. She has recently founded a charity in India, Bhor Foundation (bhorfoundation.wordpress.com) and one of their initiatives is to take poetry as therapy into asylums and prisons.

The Sanskrit for ash is asah
Sanskrit, asah, “ashes, dust”

Ash on a holy man’s forehead
Ash sprinkled with flowers,

on the Ganga, with diyas
Holy rites, buying nirvana

If moksha was that easy,
wouldn’t all the fish

go to heaven?

Muddling Geography

You are in Delhi and I
am 6820 kilometres away
I hear your laughter
Now you are singing for me
Desire muddles geography
and makes us into Trekkies
traveling like Dr Spock

Now here you are
Let’s wander in Avenham Park
Taste the strawberry ice-cream
on my tongue?
Maybe a British tipple
at my local?
Love is just a four letter word
Let’s sleep naked together

This 2 by 3 feet space, with purple
hair, is not just a window.
An open crack lets in the singing
of trees. Sometimes, it is dotted
by fat globules of rain. Sometimes,
it transforms into a greenhouse.
Am I the plant it grows?

This window is the artist’s canvas—
the changing sky, now a seagull.
It is the battery-less radio—
birdsong, rainsong, trafficsong.
Moon is her prisoner—
she laments, weeps for freedom,
over the spire of the church.
Maybe I am Window’s prisoner?

Window asks me to be present,
to witness. She is my meditation tool;
as I look outside, I look within.
Impassive, she is watching me
watching her. Like a perfect photograph,
forever frozen in time.


The narrow room
with a barred window
Pills force-fed
Lessons taught
to unwilling pupils
Tongues thickened
Chemical warfare
Limbs drugged,
turned to stone

Asylum, noun (Protection)
Descriptions of asylum
in the Cambridge dictionary —
Protection, Funny Farm,
Shield, Madhouse
Care and healing, their mission
Sanctuary, buried in their name
Their tools of torture on a tray
Their injection, carefully loaded

It is the mother whose breasts leak milk
but her child is gone

It is the life left in a dragonfly
whose wings are broken

It is the oldness in a boy’s eyes
after innocence is lost

It is the lump in your throat
that refuses to be swallowed

It is the ennui in your limbs
when a wave of depression strikes

It is glorified, painted, written of
It is feared, valorised, abhorred

It has many names, take your pick
Despair, Grief, Sorrow, what’s your choice?

Caged for so long,
you take less space
you speak softer
you try to look prettier

But yours was a wildness
Can you contain
a river in a tin cup?

You are crazy, he says
Tries to medicate
your spirit
to tame

But can the bulbul
who soars free
sing in captivity?

Your feathers fell
The river ran dry
Your song, a mere croak

The cage was home

One day, the cage opened
He found another
river to swim in,
another forest
to wander in

Terrified by this gift,
you stayed in the cage
until you started
loving yourself

You are the glint of sunlight
on a pickerel’s tail
You are the curve
of an unknown path

You are your own
perfect gift. You are
your own

If your religion is poetry,
you must learn to witness, to feel
the terror of starving farmers,
the hungry sea the refugee boat teeters in,
the salt of your tears as you see small bodies
being lifted from soot and grime.

If your religion is poetry,
your heart must sing and dance
to see clouds swimming in a cornflower sky,
daisies and dandelions bejewelling green,
to hear the forgotten music of a stream
and see the whole world in a single dewdrop.

If your religion is poetry,
you have to consume grief and joy
in equal measure,
consume until you are so replete
you have no option but for the words
and worlds to flow, soot on pristine white.

Does it serve
you well?
The white robes,
giving sermons
from high.
Do you sleep
well in the inky
When your voice
instigates rivers
of red
in valleys of peace?
It is heard
that God’s words
were to be
read and interpreted.
You are the interpreter
of rhyme. You wield
the staff. Your power
not scarce,

Cinquain 1

I know
of love like rain
messy, squelchy or soft
where peacocks dance and strut
Or tears

Cinquain 2

Sun rise
bird song, cool breeze
mango blossom are flags
a humming of nature at dawn
so loud

Assembly in a Convent School

blue pleated skirts
starched and shiny
knees scabbed

an army of blue
in a cavernous
hall in Lucknow

blue pleated skirts
and then, she

the first notes
rise with a knowing

and blue pleated skirts
sing of virtue, grace
and beauty

as the sun’s shadow
crosses over
the courtyard

Erasure Like Palimpsest

erase me
rewrite my memories
soon even an ultraviolet lamp
won’t be enough
to reveal
who I truly am

erase me
women are malleable
is that why we are pummelled
and shaped into pleasing

erase me
my voice, like those
of my sisters
has never

The Neem Tree’s Son

the branches of the neem tree
a mother’s open arms
waiting for her sun

the air fragrant
with last night’s rain—
even birdsong is sweeter

and now the sky
changes and blushes
the neem leaves quiver

a faraway train toots
proclaiming arrival
of her much loved sun

Haiku + Ghazal

dewdrops on a rose
waiting to evaporate
as the sun rises

will you come when i sing about better times?
will the world be much brighter in better times

they say everything passes, but they are wrong
sometimes it gets much worse before better times

loneliness is a drug only the ageing can withstand
the young need fun, company and better times

when times are bleak and my heart grows heavier
old albums remind me about better times

sometimes a dragonfly or gay parakeet
is a symbol of impending better times

lord, why do unbelievers cry in lament
don’t they know only faithful have better times

so still i sing loud, and still i celebrate
jhilmil, can he hear or only in better times?

On Independence Day in my country, they fly
kites from every rooftop, scraps of paper
flutter tied to manjha, specially created
thread, sharpened by glass

Sometimes, I get confused by the colours—
saffron flags, green flags, or our tricolour?
The growing frenzy of patriotism, the baying
for blood

I should remember that freedom always extracts
blood—as I come back to the memory
of flying kites, the blood salty on my fingers,
cut by manjha

Old Westerns Recalled

like a ghost town
or abandoned
movie set

you can almost
picture clint
whipping out

pistols, shooting
sharp every
time while

the sheriff
with the shiny
star rounds

up the baddies
and the damsels
serve beer

My body has a broken gateway
I wonder how many people
can enter a body before it breaks

Gateways to pleasure
Gateways to home
Gateways to security

My body was his home, he said
I got bloated from his presence
But in our country, marital rape

is legal, allowed and smiled upon
Homes are decorated, gateways
celebrated. How do you rebuild

amongst the blood and placentas?
Amongst the sindoor and the shehnai?
Night after night, I decorated his home,

Putting alta on my feet, henna on my hands.
Night after night, his hands rattled
the locks on it’s gateway

My body has a broken gateway.
My body has a broken gateway.

A Summer Sunrise in New Delhi

So much busyness, so much noise
The papiha hoots and the koyal sings
An incessant hum while leaves dance
A parakeet perches on the ashoka tree
While a group of smaller birds flit by my window,
And the mango blossoms are flags of promise
The branches of the neem tree hold up the sky
Crickets create a music all their own
Nature, always noisiest in the mornings—
Regrouping, reclaiming, rejoicing
After her rest in the star woven quilt of the night
And as I gaze at another swarm of birds in the grey haze
I am struck by the silent majesty of sunrise
Vermilion skies, nary a hiss, no proclamations of grandeur,
just quietly, the great ball of fire rises higher and higher