Poems from Tattooed with Taboos: an Anthology of Poetry by Three Women from North-East India


promises and promises

give it a miss

It’s unsure


you promised me the moon

and, doted on my nails

the black stain of your promises

I live with the regret

yet another five years

Optimist that I am

you will find me yet again

lining up in the queue

amongst stones and dust

of the rumbling school

roofless from your promises

waiting for the stain

secretly folding your promises

sliding it down

the box of dreams of democracy

locked securely for another five years

is lies and lies and lies

Yet I believed

like a love struck luckless lover

I wish I have chosen

another polish for my nails


August auburn leaves

still fresh in my memory

Yet time has swallowed everything

Debris between time and I

Dreams ended somewhere between a gnarled tree

bursting forth into blooms of frangipani

and a marshy algae pukhri

I looked for a reflection in the pukhri,

a green layer looked back

The month of Mera,

lanterns hanging atop a single stalk of bamboo in the courtyard

Quiet sky and September is still

Dried crisp yellow strands of sharp bamboo leaves

Make a grazing sound against a rare flutter of breeze

which manage to break amongst the groove of concrete.

The lantern always looks so cold a few hours into the night

Oil-less and ashamed

Its brother- the lammei in the hills

Still bright and fiery

Till all dies down in cinders

against the break of dawn.


Mera : the month of October in Meitei lunar calendar

Lammei : wild fire or fire in the hills for clearing forest for Jhum cultivation

Pukhri : pond


I can no longer provide

the pleasure of plunging

into my soul

and twisting the emptiness within

like strands of solitary entrails

I can no longer

be a vacuum

or a palpable matter

or a strange kind

mutated to accommodate

all that you demand of me

I can no longer

be a sponge

and absorb

blue bruises

and discoloured sperms

The handle is in your grasp

You can still penetrate deeper inside

with your cold steel blades

But my being has overflowed

Oozing out a dark liquid

And I am

As cold as your steel blades


Why did you give me

this irreparable world to inherit

Tainted with stains of history

the world is lost to my kind

Your gallant invoking of mere two battles

fought by women

amuses me to no end

for you know not

I live and die fighting

innumerable ones everyday

Why did you give me

your cemented dogma

where subdued tender shoots of green

Struggle beneath

I am older than the seasons

I am the aged clump of grass

Taking root

Irreparably cracking the cemented courtyard

I die and sprout again

Why did you give me

This soft tissue

deftly at my throbbing core

to break and bleed

at first contact

You judge me by this myth

I am younger than your myths

I will melt and mould

genesis and revelation

to a lump of nothingness

and mock the demise of creation


Of all the things

I wish to own

I wish my death

To be my own

A quiet dignity

Of privacy

Not a grainy picture

in a newspaper

Not a being

ripped from a warm cocoon

Not a mere body

trespassed in life

trespassed beyond life

I wish not for the raging flames

to engulf me into ashes

I wish

a piece of earth

to provide me solace

in its honeyed chest

To undo the poison

This life has fed

For a flower of red

To bloom

From my navel

And a drop of dew

To adorn its petals

For the wind to play

amongst my branches

And carry in its trail

Tales of my brimming passion

For a lover to pluck my flowers

And embellish the beloved

With my petals

With my scent

With this

You will infuse

my death

with life again



Peach blooms

It is the age of doom

Gone is the elephant’s tail

It is time for disdain

Shangbrei blooms

It is time for carnival

Bunch in the bun blooms

It is time for fallen flowers

Wildfire blooms in the slopes of hearts

It is time to wait

For the one who will never come


I am home and they are still here

These streets still scarred

These hilts still in reverie

Which one is more sore?

The broken strings of your guitar

Or the broken notes of their Pena

This is hour for wounds and maiming

There will be a time for mending and healing

There will be hours for mantra and magic

And I wait for the Maibi

Who feels the meagre pulse on my wrist

And tells the fortune of this land

She tells over my body

The fever of this land

My pulse, the broken throb of our antique drum

My bosom, the angst of a missed progeny

My forehead, the warmth of a fresh pyre

The malady of this land is mine

This home gave us everything

A corner to live and die

A corner to croon and sigh

Though it could never give a tiny corner

To rest at long last

Broken bones of our hearts


Pena: an indigenous stringed musical instrument


He said he will build a farm house

I said I will give him the land

He said it will be called ‘liberation zone’

‘Man, Come there is dustbin you can put down the gun

Come have a drink, there are bottles you can carry on’

Man can lay down guns and liberate himself

What shall a woman lay down to liberate herself?

Yes, he remembers the story I read

A new house in a new country

Made of windows

Through which we watch together

Beyond the beyond,

Horizon after horizon, sunset after sunset

Tune after tune… after you are back.

You and I shall walk again on the wet fields

With a grotesque aluminium bucket to pick snails

Mossy with years of hibernation

Like seasoned revolutionaries

You and I shall walk again on evening lanes

Across that drowsy villa

Your thumb paints the colour of nongjabi

On my lips

From the shades of western vista

Will there be words left?

Will there be time that betrays?

He will love my old smile

Like he loves the old wine

Brewed with Sekmai water


Nongjabi : the colour of sunset in the evening clouds.

Sekmai : a village through which Sekmai Turel (river) runs


The moment you dethrone

That goddess in your heart

And replace it with me

Allow me to know

Let me taste it with a vengeance

The day when you wish to say

‘Let’s go home’

I am standing by

Ready to leave everything aside

To set forth hand in hand

When you want to let loose yourself

And swim in my wave

When you want to drown yourself

In the depth of me

Drunk with me

Tell me

But never ask me where I go

In the midst of dark nights

Never ask me what I metamorphosed into

In the full moon light

Never ask me why

I vanish in those sullen evenings

Never ask me to lock my doors

You never know when my wings burst forth

Never ask me lo bind my hair

For my comrades trace me through its scent

My beloved!

Never ask me my revelation.



Some has more curves

Some looks fair and attractive

Welcome to the market of fruits

You have the choice to hold and weigh

You can just lift and taste its juices

How far the fruits can cry of your misdeeds?

Welcome to the market of fruits

Some are like your favourite apple

Some looks like your juicy orange

You have choices in front of you

Apples, oranges, grapes,

Choose the one of your own

Till the time market is open for you

You have the choice to hold and weigh

You can just lift and taste its juices

How far the fruits can cry of your misdeeds?


He must be shouting for his roots,

He must be craving for his tribe,

He must be asking machem Khamnu,

Where was he born?

Where he belonged?

Mathura or Moirang?

I dreamt of pure love

Like that of Khamba -Thoibi

The eternal sacrifice of the two lovers

I listened Moirang – Parva

To get a glimpse of their tale

I weep for Khamnu

Oh! how she suffered

Oh! how she nurtured Khamba

I crave for the courage of Thoibi

Who defied decrees for Khamba

Outwitting Nongban

But it was a famous poet

Who bewildered me

In another myth

Quite afar from what I heard

I remember my grandma telling me

The story of Khamba-Thoibi

I still am mesmerised

With the beauty of Thoibi

The epic poet

Retold the tale

How Khamba met Krishna

How they played Ras Lila

Krishna reincarnated as Khamba

Ventured to Moirang

Then when I lost my way

I see Radha

Playing Holi with Khamba

Khamba courting the Gopis

I pursue that myth

Connected to my root

I question that history

Still it cannot answer

Where Khamba belonged?

Where he met Krishna?

How he played Ras Lila

In front of Thanjing Mandap

Oh! Poet, come back

And answer me

You have to re-write your epic

You have to re-sing Moirang-Parva

I’m still waiting

How you would explain

Khamba playing holi with Radha

And courting Gopis

Oh! Poet, come back

Console Khamba’s lament

for the made-to-believe myth.


Machem : sister

Mathura : birthplace of Krishna

Moirang : birthplace of Khamba

Khamba-Thoibi : legendary lovers in Manipuri folklore

Khamnu : She is Khamba’s elder sister who raised him up as both were

orphans.Nongban pursued Thoibi. The folklore is recollected in the narration of Moirang Parva.

Holi : the festival of colours in Hindi tradition

Gopis : the Lovers of Krishna

Radha and Krishna : Krishna is a Hindu god and Radha is his consort

Ras lila : a dance drama of Krishna and his gopis

Thanjing Mandap : the courtyard of the deity Thangjing

Default image

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply

Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124