by Manash Firaq Bhattarcharjee
The eye you see is not
an eye because you see it;
it is an eye because it sees you.
~ Antonio Machado, ‘Proverbs and Songs’
You stare at her body. You don’t see
Her eyes seeing you. Her body is a blind mannequin
Of desire. When she moves, you are surprised.
She is a spell, not a spectre. Her skin is a black hole.
Her eyes, an abyss. You see everything
She is not. She is a black myth from books you read
Wrongly. She strips to let her body stare back
At you. To tell you she hides nothing
You do not know. Her breasts are breasts. Not
Fruits of a Baobab tree. Her lips are lips. Not the work
Of bees. Her legs are legs. Not a sea
Of drowning nymphs. Her knees are knees. Not
Hot yolks of the moon. You aren’t ripe for metaphors.
The cigarette she holds – measures
Your insecurities. The tattoos on her body
Mark you off. She is tattooed to memories of flowers,
Wounds, honey. You see what you don’t know.
You see her eyes. Not what she holds in them. You are trapped
In a forest of imaginary beasts. She finds you
Lost in a childhood zoo.
You do not see her. You cancel her gaze. When she stares
Back, hold on to her eyes. They might set you free.
Author's Note: This poem is inspired by a photograph by Mahesh Shantaram of a black woman in Kasaul who stripped for the camera to convey how it feels to be stared at (not available online). It is part of a series on 'African migrants in India'. Shantaram's The African Portraits will be on view in New Delhi at Exhibit 320 from June 2-16, 2017.