Rumpus Original Poetry: Four Poems by Sumita Chakraborty






I have not been able to build the etymology of love.

The word, in its weight, is an eclipse.



Death, at least in one of Dürer’s woodcuts, is a charming skeleton; he steadies a casket on his shoulder with one hand while the other hand seduces the Fool’s robe. The woodcut can be found in the first Ship of Fools book, and it is called Not Preparing for  Death. The Fool, at least as well as I can make out, is carrying a paper-wrapped bouquet of calla lilies.

It’s an anachronism for me to claim the Fool holds calla lilies, since the lily was “discovered” in the eighteenth century, and Dürer came from a previous time, a time before the West had invented for them this name. Calla lilies are one of my mother’s favorite kinds of flower, which is why, when I picture this charming skeleton come to pick up my sister, I imagine also a nearby Fool, holding calla lilies.

Here are some of my favorite lines of poetry, made with some of my other favorite lines of poetry: Stevens wrote that // For a poem to be true, it must “come from an Ever.” / If you don’t fathom that, then you should not be reading this. These lines are intended to forbid, which is a less cherished and equally indispensable impulse as that of invitation. Ever is not a place; to fathom means to measure what cannot be measured.

I imagine Ever the way I imagine Elsewhere: the thousand-armed river down which the Ship of Fools sailed, the great uncertainty that surrounds all things. To agree with the above means, then, to permit two facts: that it is not possible for a poem to exist, and that to read a poem is to embark on a mission that bears no bloom. Both facts mean, In the business of poetry, you are Death’s Fool, with an armful of calla lilies.

My agreement with these lines is therefore both a form of self-love and one of self-loathing, for I too have a ship, although I cannot fathom much, and my ship itself is not fit to sail a thousand-armed river. My ship is also not a poem, by which I mean both that my ship exists and, at the same time, that it is not true, which I understand to mean faithful. It is an exercise in failure.



When as a child my father deemed my weight excessive, the measure of which shifted according to whim, he would take his underwear off of his body and place it on top of my head. I was to run in circles around the house, wearing it, for a prescribed number of times. This was called “exercise.”

I am undertaking a new labor: I will imagine myself into deep, focused, and strange hatreds. Spinoza writes, He who imagines that what he hates is destroyed will rejoice. Some years ago, dozens of grackles fell dead from the sky in Boston, the cause unknown. And so I think: detest grackles. I rejoice.

If asked, I would have explained the cause: somewhere in a level of atmosphere for which humans hold no keys lived a green-shining carrion crow. As her name indicates, she ate dead bodies. But nothing had died there, ever; and so, she was hungry. She was kept company by this lack.

Sometimes, I tell myself that I cannot think of a lover with terribly much feeling at all. But this is a lie. The absence of feeling is an assertion of a feeling, and it is a memory, or an exercise, of a kind of a joy I sometimes fear I have forgotten, because, as a lover, I have been slighted, and, as a child, often betrayed.

For some length of time that a crow considers painful and I cannot measure, she caressed her lack like a lover. But then she came to fear her lover, for it caused her pain, and she could not convince herself that she had no feeling for her lover. So she undertook an exercise of destruction and began to kill.

When as a child I turned to violence, my mother, who also feared my father and even more feared the thought that I might become him, tried to warn, A fist is always made with four fingers that point back toward you. This is the kind of thing a grackle would say, because on their feet is one toe that always points backward.

Then the crow’s fallow field of carrion was her new creation, and she had grown accustomed to hating the products of her own making. She ate some, and so she finally grew in size, and hated that, too. She who imagines what she hates is destroyed will rejoice. She opened a hole in the bottom of the atmosphere. Her kills fell.



I no longer love.

To prove this, I have cut off my hands.

Sumita Chakraborty is Poetry Editor for AGNI, Art Editor for At Length, and a doctoral candidate in English at Emory University, where she is currently a fellow at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry. Her poems have appeared in POETRY, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere; her essays and scholarship have appeared or are forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Cultural Critique, and elsewhere. She is a 2017 recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. More from this author →