Sujata Bhatt

A Secret

Sometimes the river smells of cows, of cows and rain - 
             or is it the wind that brings
the smell of cows from those fields
                 across the river?
The river smells of rain, or is it
         the grass that smells of rain,
or is it the wind that sucked in
the rain and now breathes out
                      that muddy smell?

A river so clean, it turns silver
           in the hyacinth light - 

Sometimes the light is pale yellow,
pale amber-yellow streaked with white - 
That’s when the air smells of linden trees
                         thick with flowers -
      honey-tinged constellations - 

Summer in a northern country,
so north the sun barely sets before it rises again - 
A land of trees and dark berries - 
Shadows move through green light, skins of souls
                        flicker between leaves.
Sometimes the sky looks like milk,
            like whipped cream -

Her child was born into this landscape -
the girl’s story ripples
               with this northern light.

Sacred, she is to her mother,
                 sacred, the nape of her neck,
sacred, her slenderness,
the delicate strength in her hands, sacred
the gold-flecked green reflected in her eyes - 
There’s a path through the wildflowers
                  where bees will let you pass - 
and there, near the clearing, where the tall grass parts
       is where she likes to play - 

But this is another story,
          a quiet story no one tells - 
A story full of secrets and silence,
      something each daughter forgets
               to tell her own daughter - 
Or else, the mother speaks in whispers,
using other words so the child thinks
             it’s only a dream.

And years later, each daughter hides the memory somewhere,
         somewhere -       where no one will look.

It’s a story that gets lost on the way home,
but the silence burns within the girl.

Sometimes they tell you that what was lost was merely a feather,
or a blue stone the child kept in her pocket - 
      But her mother remembers so much more - 

It always happens so quickly, where was the time to warn the girl?

Should we say ‘warn’? But how can we include calmness,
          happiness -       the grace of a swallow’s flight - 
and expect the child to believe it?

And why does her mother
         remember that day with such longing?

The mother blames herself for letting her daughter
           play for so long with the other girls,
for not watching closer, for not seeing the shadows
              slide across the field - 
It was hide and seek and then a game of tag:
         ‘run, run, run, as fast as you can!’
The grass tangled with wildflowers
         as the girls leaped over the softness - 

Suddenly, from the distance
one girl sees the light slant above the linden trees
             so they move in a different way,
then the river flashes another colour,
            deeper, brighter - 
                         and the wind smells of cows;
     one girl says they were all pointing at her
                  and no one understood - 
one girl says, ‘It’s my secret, I won’t tell you.’

But her daughter returns, smeared with blood
as if she had cradled a dying bird,
      as if she had stroked its sticky wings,
              its crushed bones - 
the redness different from that of seeds or berries.

The daughter cries out for her mother, she runs
       back to her mother who was not really far away -
And the mother embraces her,
takes her home, washes her with that old gentleness
        as if the girl were a newborn infant again.
And as the mother gathers words
to explain - her daughter says, ‘Don’t tell anyone,
           don’t tell, please don’t tell. It’s my secret.’