Poem of the Week | September 02, 2008

This week’s poem is “The Bandh” by Lynn Aarti Chandhok, which appeared in TMR 28:3 (2005). Lynn Chandhok’s first book, The View from Zero Bridge, won the 2006 Philip Levine Prize and was published by Anhinga Press in October 2007. In addition to The Missouri Review, her poetry has appeared widely in journals including The New Republic, Tin House, The Antioch Review, The Hudson Review, and Prairie Schooner. A limited edition letter-press chapbook, Picking the Flowers, was published by Aralia Press in 2007.

“In 1999 I began writing poetry, and I was lucky to meet a few poets who encouraged me to think about writing in meter. Once I figured it out, I fell in love wit blank verse, and then with other forms, and recently with rhyme. Working in form gives me the distance and structure I need.

“In 2000 I started traveling back to India more frequently, with my own daughters. The conflict in Kashmir keeps us from spending time there. Instead, we travel every year to the Kumaon region of Uttaranchal in the Himalayan foothills. Negotiating these places, families, histories, politics, and geographies, I always have plenty to write about-just not enough time.”

The Bandh

The Jhelum River snaked past our back yard,
Beyond the corn, the rows of ripe tomatoes-
Where mornings we filled baskets, or our skirts,
Ran home and begged the cook to make us soup-
Past brimming orchards of sweet apples, thick
Groves of gnarled plum trees dangling black-skinned fruit.
The Bandh protected us from springtime floods
But blocked our view-built up so high the land
Seemed like a shallow basin, till the day
We tucked ourselves between the barbed-wire lines
And clambered up the dusty zigzag path,
Up to the Bandh’s high crest. For the first time,
I saw what stretched out on the other side:
A scattering of huts and smoldering fires,
Smoke rising without the scent of prayer or food,
The river ambling, quiet, almost looming,
Its current strong enough to wash away
The women who unwound themselves from yards
Of saffron sarees, pounding out the silt,
Then stretching crimson rivulets of silk
To dry, billowing on the shore-or else
The green-eyed children who would point and laugh,
Their quick, white smiles grabbing the evening light-
Even the goats and cows that claimed the path
And, edging us aside, clanged home at dusk.

That summer I learned bandh meant closed. I turned
The grammar over in my head. From here,
The view was clear. The setting sun laid pinks
Across the river and the vale. Immense
Chinar trees draped their boughs in silhouette.
Then we were silhouette against dim light,
Our shadows thin as shadows cast beneath
A gauze of silk or smoke-and no less true.
The Closed, I thought, and turned back from the view.