S. Niroshini

Black Lullaby


Darling girl, it’s strange how the sound
that you most associate with time
.                                    is that of a clock.

As if such banality     tick     tock      tick     tock
the sound of a nursery rhyme— could obscure
.               the true nature of it

which if you were honest, or listened carefully
sounds more akin to the drowned out howl
.                           of a wolf in dissent.

Last night we stumbled through languid rivers
and pregnant mountains, black berries
.          rolling on our tongues,
.                           to sate hunger.

We stalked cities pocketing jade, golden anklets
ruby amulets, metronomes and honour
from the husbands of priests

and sliced elegant necks to humour ourselves
as our dreams clipped our heels,
as our dreams kept account for mothers
as our dreams—
.            I cannot tell you
.            what happened to our dreams.


We arrived to the ugly mouth of this city unmet by
vermillion on our black skin
.            surveying the land
.            holding
a kaleidoscope
.            against our eyes

.            as blades of grass snapped under bare heals.

.            To its decayed fringes we walked and mingled
with lost girls, carrion, ghosts.

We are home.

Home, the only place where pain                         and shame
can stand idle next to tenderness.

Our feet circle the red clay of this land
and I who stand in the centre of this raucous
circle of women

.            converse with the spirits of
.            once-beautiful girls
.            on ashy pyres who say:

.                          Beauty has its own logic, but so does decay.

.                          Beauty has its own logic, but so does subversion.

.                          Beauty has its own logic, but so does destruction.


By this lake, the colour of ink, I try to teach you things:

to speak without concern

to laugh at the rhythms of planets, its pretensions to order.

To cradle life and death to your breast.


.                        Your forehead presses
.                        to the gutted floor
.                        of this house
to pay your respects, you say.

.                        Blood squelches between
.                        my toes, a sound which
.                        makes you laugh.

.                        When I comb your hair
.                        a spotted owlet
.                        watches over us
.                                     perched on a tree gazing
.                                     with a crooked glance,
.                        as you hold a book
.                        between your hands
.                        of the last female poet

.                        its words a silent threat, a brazen chuckle.


Remember all this when, eventually, you will take my place.

Daughter, when you think of eternity what does it feel
like in your chest?

A never-ending blackness? Obsidian ink that circles
around your waist and spills through your nose?

The truth is
.            truth is more like
.            a single point throbbing
.            red, unseen, like the blood coursing through your
vulnerable jugular vein.

Come roam with me, as does the sun through this barren land.

I see you / there is honour among thieves /
do you know how to love? / More importantly
do you know how to detect deceit? / Or can you only
smother birds with broken wings at 3am?

Only read this poem when you are one hundred and eight my love
and can tell the difference between sentimentality and truth,
and you will finally etch these words onto your thigh.


Come, listen – put your ear to this, a broken radio
presented to me by a small slip of a girl
.                        emitting
.                                      sounds from space,

interstellar waves which you find terrifying.

The universe is a noisy place.

Yet it calls out my name,
.                        all one thousand and eight of them

lolā       līlā       kāmada       kāminī
sulocanā       trilocanā       sarasvatī

The one who is desired.

The one who desires herself.

.            Yet, observe paintings
.            in which
.            I am almost
.            imperceptible
.            a simple shadow
.            in this arena.

.            But when they come,
.            when the battle takes place.
.            on the moment of urgency
.            You and I will be moulded in stone,
.            standing as testimony,
.            as a lion is drawn
.            from the dusky brow
of a rich woman.

I will be imagined
dancing, hands clapping.
My right leg extending
from the hip socket,
exposing that which is
found so fearful.

Blessings and curses.  Blessings and curses.  Blessings and curses.

Winds and tides exist in my name.
Black waves that will welcome you in their arms
and negate the sun.

I will lead you to fall in love
with your best friend’s wife,
say no to the good thing,
dis-avow art, pleasure.
Leave home.

And in the end, only we will remain.

.            Babies will return to wombs,
.            icebergs will rise on land,
.            mothers will no longer burn
.            the lost will be reclaimed by the found,
.            the moon will gravitate towards the sea
.            tongues will curl into throats,
.            stars will collapse on themselves
.            my body, your body will fold.

Why are you just standing there, darling?

Take this knife.

It is time.


S. Niroshini is a Sri Lankan-born writer of fiction, essays and poetry raised in Australia. Her work engages with themes of gender, cultural history, migration and memory. After a brief career as a solicitor she returned to her original love of writing, performance and visual art. She lives in London.