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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 2, June 2018
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Anne Benjamin
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Tanka Diary Visit to the Old Country

Day 1

We spend our first day back in Chennai, cleaning the house and setting ourselves up for our stay. Internet to be reconnected, phones charged with credit, floor and benches and vessels washed, water cylinders bought, drinking water boiled.

A restaurant has opened recently directly across the street. Its convenience entices us for a meal.

through the plate glass
of Geetha Bhavan windows
a healing green wall—
sprawling neem trees
my husband’s father planted

Day 2

First thing, as every day, I open the bedroom window overlooking the adjacent vacant block. No wind in the trees. Grass straggles a metre high around an uncovered well. Above, the sky is pale yellow and featureless.

The washing machine will not spin. Clothes sit heavy in the bowl.

We are both lethargic. Here to complete some family business, we lack direction.

in my dream
I’m swaying on the rim
of a swamp—
weeds creep down
into an abandoned well

We wait for a company representative to come to assess the machine. He leaves and we wait again for someone to do the repairs.

the mechanic strips
the washing machine
down to bolts and bits
slowly reconstructing
a smoothly running life

Day 3

Morning chores: walk, greet neighbors, buy paper and a sachet of milk, boil milk and set the curd, heat water for a bath, bathe and dress, make breakfast, wash up, wash and hang the clothes, clean the floor and steps, check my emails, check my WhatsApp messages from home. When I can, I spend some time on the roof.

a congress of crows
converges on the terrace
near the water tank
breezes between the treetops
breathe open a quiet space

A sunny day. Heat bounces back from the sand in the cemetery where my sister-in-law and-brother-in-law are buried. He died within a year of her going. We are here to remember them.

women pull saris
over their heads
in the heat
grandchildren wreathe the graves
with marigolds and red roses

Day 4

Even a good tanka couldn’t fix the washing machine. It is still not spinning.

On a second visit to Geetha Bhavan I realise there is a gap in the wall of green neem across the front of our house, and some of the washing that we hang to dry on the terrace roof is clearly visible.

filled with wind
washing flutters in the sun
upon the roof
my underwear
on the diners’ plates

We invite our neighbors to a meal to end the old year. On the terrace roof, the evening is cool, and still quiet, only a few signs of fireworks in the sky.

Day 5

A round of visits across the city . . .

Morning tea with our good friends next door. Lunch with an industrialist friend, his family, five dogs and twelve associates who come to felicitate him. Afternoon tea with a former neighbor: at 84, he bubbles with characteristic enthusiasm about the environment, politics, society and values.

At our next stop, a 94-year-old friend invites us to his club to celebrate a friend’s birthday. That friend, like our host, is gracious and intelligent, a former scientist with NASA and Vice-Chancellor.

new year pudding
steeped and seasoned
plump with spirit
fire in their eyes
dancing in their steps

Day 6

After dining on old friendships yesterday, I begin to come to life.

In the car, on a long day outside the city with many stops. A call from home: things awry; our elder daughter is unwell. I am stuck in a car in an Indian village.

stopping everywhere
and journeying nowhere
my heart
reaches away
somewhere else

Day 7

In the morning, the aftermath of sleeping with nightmares; I wake jaded. We are both out of sorts. Still, our daughter is safe and well and in good care. And the washing machine is working.

she pegs a screen
of sheets and shirts and shawls
along the line
between the neem trees
and the household wear and tear

Day 9

The day is pleasantly overcast with a cool breeze. The downstairs family has hired a woman to sweep the paved yard. She burns the leaves—filling the house with acrid smoke. As afternoon darkens, I savor the cool scent of rain.


Editor’s Note: Neem trees are associated with many medicinal benefits.

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