Thirst was the sanctuary
where his craft bloomed
in dry wells, parched taps.
He carries carcass of Ganga
on his shoulders in a goatskin
bag. His ancestors ride
on its smooth finish
similar to that of the camels
resting under date palm trees.
And as the desert cools in his
memory, the only story he knows
is of his father, he sprinkles
molten clouds on shadows
of minarets that grow long on blazing roads
He strokes this smooth shadow
with his thumb. Its tip is fire.
He looks back at another water-man whom Emperor Jahangir made king for a day
and at his mother saying, “Water is staircase to paradise.
…give it to every mouth.”
He opens the mouth of his goatskin sack
to the tongues of thirsty dogs
of Bow Barracks
and moves in circles of Fire
waiting for his bones
to become water.
Bhishti – Water carriers who supply water in goatskin bags. The community is disappearing fast
Dharamtalla – Busy merchant area in Calcutta
Bow Barracks – An area of Calcutta
By Saima Afreen
Saima Afreen is an award-winning poet who also moonlights as a journalist with The New Indian Express. Her poems have appeared in several national and international journals like Indian Literature, HCE Review, The Bellingham Review, The Stillwater Review, The McNeese Review, The Nassau Review, The Oklahoma Review, Staghill Literary Journal, The Notre Dame Review, Honest Ulsterman, and Existere among others. She has been part of literary festivals and platforms such as Sahitya Akademi Poets’ Meet, Goa Arts and Literary Festival, TEDx VNR-VJIET, Prakriti Poetry Festival, Betty June Silconas Poetry Festival (New Jersey) and Helsinki Poetry Jam. She was awarded Villa Sarkia Writers Residency (Finland) for autumn 2017 where she completed the manuscript of her debut poetry book ‘Sin of Semantics and Other Poems’.