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What I’ll Take with Me when I Leave Shillong

What I’ll Take with Me when I Leave Shillong

Nabanita Kanungo

It is not about what I want to take with me
when I leave the city of my birth,
rather what can be taken, or taken at all.
How much blue can be carried
behind the defeated sky of eyes
how many of their rain-speckled windows,
how much sun can be poured into veins…
I am preparing for a day
when oranges will be a memoir.

To clear this room, incorrigibly strewn with tastes:
the sohs1, waiting to salivate time’s mouth elsewhere,
the smoked-khtung2 of my origins,
some nei-lieh3 in the heart’s sagging pouch,
a handful of red sticky rice, maybe.
This room scattered with sights:
sylvan myths only waiting for my flesh elsewhere
with the lances of firs, the claws of pines.

It takes to belong nowhere,
to bring yourself one day to gather all the pieces of grief,
all those fractions of streets, names,
that sudden blooming tree,
Jaqaranda-monsoons, Cherry-winters;
the gnarled face of an old woman
in whom you saw your earth.

I will carry this helpless bridge
of dark, olfactory roots in my head
by which all such naïve maps must grow
and each time, from anywhere in the world
one is enabled to sniff the way back
to a meaning called home.

For meaning is all there is,
so I will have to take the thousand ways
in which I blindly returned to myself for years,
tapping the way on my own skin
by the sharp slangs and stones,
sensing a calendar of flowers,
smelling the turn of wind.

I don’t know how to bottle the meaning of autumn,
how to take what charcoal signifies in winter’s languid night.
And somewhere I must stash the morning walls, some mist,
and the yellow light of evenings thoughtful after rain.

And it will continue:
this unpublished manuscript of my sorrows,
my codified OCD for this “home”
this unending list of what I will take with me when I leave;
and I’ll have never packed everything that I wanted to take.
Somehow, I’ll never have left.
Has that smooth soh baingon dieng4 rolled
into the darkness under my bed?

1. fruit
2. dried fish
3. a local variant of sesame
4. tree tomato


Nabanita Kanungo was born in Shillong, Meghalaya. She is currently pursuing her PhD in geography. Her poems have appeared in Indian Literature, Journal of the Poetry Society of India Muse India and Ten: The New Indian Poets, edited by Jayanta Mahapatra. She has also translated Pijush Dhar’s poems into English, which have been published by the Writer’s Workshop in Kolkata.

Nabanita Kanungo