Waters of Lethe


Volumes and vessels. Recesses and rooms. Shallows and shadows. Mosques and minarets. Cathedrals and chambers.
You’re an echo without an origin.
You’re the volume of a vacant vessel.
You’re the magnificence of monuments, you’re a broadway show amidst yellow city lights and a silent history amidst ruined sculptures and incomprehensible scriptures.
You’re the blood on the crucifixion and the cassock.
You’re a room with no walls, a door on the ceiling, and a chandelier on the floor.
You’re the boulevards that broaden into pavements, that open into lanes, that widen into alleys and arteries.
You’re an anthology of absurdities.
You’re so poignantly potent that these paltry punctuations, these worn out words are on the edge of exploding.
They can’t hold your essence.
But, I couldn’t let the water drip in disregard. So, I decided to write.
To pour as much of your ocean as I can, into the pond of my writing.
I see you as something passing by. Something evanescent, something unearthly.
I see you as time.

The slow onset of January with the lumbering lethargy of winter scattered across the maple wood floor as wrapping paper, ribbons, tinsels, poinsettias, scented candles, and Christmas laughter. January is the joy of beginnings. It is the early mornings after the late nights. It is the fragrance of fresh clothes, promenading through your body. It is the pleasing breeze that marks the arrival of weeks and months and lines striking through the year column of the date section. It is the new stationery. In the 5th century, it was the month that marked the arrival of hungry wolves, scavenging at people’s doors. In Roman mythology, it defines Janus, the God of Gateways. It is the crystalline interiors of Garnet that reflect the shallow spirit of January and the tinted, disarranged petals of carnation that smell of the bittersweetness of goodbyes. It lives in twos. Between the light and the shadow, between the pale and the hued. January is a petty paradox. It is the collision of the unknown new and the wise old.

January is a young girl, unconcerned.

The awakening of February with the stretching of arms, rousing from the yawns of the cold breeze into the embraces of warmth. It is the lemon chest of merry canaries against the cobalt carcass of the sky and the green canopy of the trees. It is a detachment from the dull comfort of winter into the bright extroversion of summer, but cloaked. It is a silent occupation. February is the the pastel counterparts of acrylic colours. It is sweaters stitched in shades of marmalade, cantaloupe, honey, and yam instead of scarlet. It is trousers and corduroys washed in browns like hickory, caramel, and carob instead of gingerbread. It is gray painter’s caps and fitted dresses that sculpt the waistline. It is subtle lips and flushed cheeks. It is intentionally ill fitted coats worn over checkered pants. It is the delusional trend and the fancy schmancy jewellery, all in sweet pretence. It is Hindi written in English scripts. It is modest dresses and hoop earrings. It is subtle curls and sharpened arches of eyebrows with a side dish of thin lips and smile lines. It is a month of the misfits.

February is the vague years between childhood and adolescence.

The making of March is with cycle bells, result declarations, dainty daffodils, sweet lemonade, sparrows chirping. and the end of old endeavours. March is plays being performed in the city circle while, in the adjacent school, students look through their marksheets in quiet observation. March is long floral dresses and printed bandanas. March is tangy lollipops and sour candies. It is licorice and lozenges in a stained glass jar sold at the cozy nook of a hustling market by the lady with purple hair and round glasses, for a dime or two. It is the evident texture of wool as one thread plaits itself into another, with petite woollen hair shredding off. It is the tender hellos to the sunshine. It is turquoise skies and neon lights painting your forehead in vibrant vermillion. It is dark ginger hair, messy buns held by colour pencils. It is electric blue nail polish and textured paper with rust stains.

March is early adolescence.

There is a certain awareness in April. A wisdom of unlived times. It is a beginning for some and an anticipation for others. April is lined with joy and healing, with merriness and mirth but also with boredom and curiosity. April is the zipping of suitcases and tote bags for short weekend trips. It is the sippy cups and trace-and-erase chalkboards. It is miniature instruments and childish cackling. It is the translucence of georgette tops drenched in bright fuchsia while also, the wrinkles of revolution on the faces of indigenous women. It is the invisibly visible circumference of the ceiling fan’s blades and the unamusing hours on the clock, the matte and the gloss of textured sunmica, the piles of books on uninteresting topics and a cardboard box of fresh cherries wrapped in a pale beige paper bag sold at the greengrocer’s who sits by the town library, everyday from seven to two.

April is a young maiden.


May is a writer. She writes letters to the summer skies about the arrival of midnight monsoons and buys love from the local florist for as many cents as there are, in her grandmother’s purse. She writes poems to the lilies of the valley and the chrysanthemums and the tulips that paint the lawns in shades of roseate, yellow, and white. She writes feuilletons about the conversations in the corridors and scripts for naughtily sardonic mockumentaries produced by Judy at the Good Times studio. May is the summer songs of heartbreak and lovesickness. It is the songs that make you love someone who doesn’t exist. It is the amber rays of the sun held behind translucent window panes. It is the pile of clothes lying on the old, creaky chair with laces and lingerie lolling around, between the pile and the dust layered floor. It is the painted nails and tinted perfume bottles, and hand mirrors lying on the dressing table littered with jewellery gifted by nameless lovers. The hair loosened from tight pigtails, now swaying aimlessly in the wind. It is the folds of the drapes with dull flowers stitched onto them. The chewed ends of wooden pencils. The entangled telephone wire and the small diary of addresses and telephone numbers of the men she met at the bakery. Of the men she met at the fair. Of her innumerable affairs only her grandmother is acquainted with.

She is a lass of love.

June is the signs and the symbols. It is a sorority. It is crinkled white bed sheets. It is the beginning of seasons that water the soil and flood the concrete. June is a bonhomie. It feels like a home where you don’t reside. It feels like washed skin and dirty silk. It feels like all the love that flowed from you in May has suddenly dried. It is the dismissals and denials. It is the organised, folded, and stacked clothes. It is the new telephones and discarded address books. It is flowers in vases that were once perfume bottles and still smell of him. It is the laced lingerie replaced by basic bralettes and cheap balconettes. It is the newly purchased blankets, from the local thrift store. It is sophistication with a price tag. It is the melting popsicles and problematic candy floss. It is the quarrels with the grocer and the fair bargain at the baker’s. It is the orange ear chords now compartmentalised into a lost zip of a tan tote bag. It is the mess and the mayhem and yet, the brushing aside of a loose hair strand to type into a computer screen, forgetting that the tap wasn’t closed and the stove is still turned on, and that the todo list prepared for grocery shopping this evening was gifted along with the two way money paid for a one way train ticket.

It is a middle aged, busy woman.

July is the comfort of comfort. It is the ease of routine. It is the relief of settlement. It is the plainness of prose. It is the equality of monochrome. It is the simplicity in the known. It is a woman with a purpose. It is the fury of the feminine, while also the acceptance of age. It is the normal. The middling. The house keys hung on the wooden key holder sculpted in the shape of a dancing woman with a short orange bob and thick mascara, the steel knobs and broken door handles, the wood peeling off, the taped and stapled cuboidal cardboard boxes with music cassettes and CDs within, the regular black camisole with no lace linings and satin bows, the ragged rugs and tea stained carpets, white washed walls, affordable crockery and tea cups with chipped corners, the crooked clothes hanger, paintings of ordinary flowers and portraits of the local pigeon, and the photo frames of people once loved. It is the paint boxes with paper partitions and a free paint brush. A red leather diary with a string around it. It is a woman too old to be young.

It is an ancient lady sent to the wrong century.

August is a seductress. She is the seduction in sorrow. She is a lady in the darkness of a lounge with evanescent cabaret and red lights, she is a lady you meet momentarily who ingrains herself in the quaint hallways of your memory like a soft scent that is distinct yet forgettable. Broad shoulders. Black stilettos. And, manipulative smiles. It is the fingers that brush by, mistakenly. The ceramic plates with porcelain textures and turquoise flowers drawn by the sides. It is the collection of spices beside a bottle of wine, all misplaced. All the unsolicited opinions sipped away in a mustard mug filled with a créme caramel latte and cashew biscuits, after waking up a tad bit late and reading some convincing words of misinterpreted wisdom. August is a distraught daughter who fell in love with herself and her own enchantment.

She’s a lustful lady.

September is a settlement. It is cordial convenience. It is a wholeness, of warmth and of warning. It is something known yet foreign. It is the unwashed dishes lying in the sink, scattered in their own chaotic order. It is a poet living between the titles of her poems written an eternity ago while musing over a distant uncertainty. It is the boring buildings, unseen sunsets, and the sore knees. It is the gorgeously regal curtains in a middle class household with plastic chairs and patchwork cushion covers aligned along the edge of the sofa with soleless shoes lying around one of its legs. It is the wardrobes with no doors and the chairs with makeshift tables made with piles of grandfather’s books and Rini’s fairy tales. It is a calendar with no Monday because Ronny tore it away to draw a scenery behind it and no Tuesday either because Monday was trial. It is the pigmented, cheap lipsticks bought from the chemist’s and the joy of delicate, expensive toys bought from the new toy store in the city centre.

It is a mother.

October is a late night, chaotic party. There is something so intrinsically uncanny about October and yet, something so paltry. It is a rock music concert. It is a bottle of strawberry jam purchased from the general store and loved by all the children in the neighborhood. It is the little gifts with handwritten messages about love, life, and happiness and a tiny flower scribbled on the side with a shaky, golden glitter pen. It is the cheap flowers gifted to teenage lovers on Valentine’s with all the money that was earned over three months of summer holidays last year. It is the memories of all these times wrapped away under a woollen scarf stitched with pieces of cloth taken from the tailor. It is the neatly folded newspapers with pencil markings and dog-eared corners as a reminder for the dictionary. It is the short passerby conversations with young girls about infatuations and the warm, reminiscing smiles thereafter.

It is an eccentric old lady with an electric heart.

November is lethargy. It is a transition from the chaos of October nights to the silence of November days spent at the café, writing meaningless words on soft tissues with a black ball point pen that the barista lent you. November feels almost like February and Thursdays, a little in the middle. A little lost and a little found. It is souvenirs from places never seen. It is beautiful penmanship, leaned on the right with long letters, big loops, the dot of an ‘i’ placed a little too high, and the blots of ink at random places that mark a sudden, enveloping thought. It is a quarter of thought and a quarter of truth, and a middle half of not knowing the difference between the two.

It is a lady in her eighties.


December is dusk. It is the month of frivolous recollection and sweet forgetfulness. It is the eventuality of death that is somehow, so consuming yet so heartwarming. It is hot coffee and glazed donuts. It is soups and bread crumbs and chocolate chip cookies made by grandmothers in their eighties. It is the joy of Christmas. It is the woollen clothes and knitting needles. It is the grey hair tied into a ponytail with every strand falling into pattern. It is a stained apron and an old tray. It is the narrow fingers that falter but they still paint. It is the pungent smell of old women with their sons at sea, daughters in distant lands, and husbands sipping warm tea. It is the embrace of a woman with a cold body and a warm soul. It is the fireplace and the furnace fuelled with kindred kindness. It is the crinkles of old age. It is the footsteps of senility slowly approaching death. Slowly. Death has too many metaphors, but the slow suddenness of it all has only one. Look at the water. The water that drips down your spine during the warm, afternoon shower. Look at it deflect from the surface of your backbone onto the marble wall. Look at it’s shadow grow bigger as the droplets approach the marble surface and disappear all at once, as the water becomes one with the wall. That is what death is. Becoming one, all at once.

But love, love does not die with death.
For there is always, always a tiny will to love, even in the absence of a will to live.
There is always, always a little youthful love remaining in tired marriages.
There is always, always an ‘I love you’ that is uttered before the night lamp is turned off. And, even amidst the heaviest of silences and the poorest of ears, it is heard. It is always heard.

By Alolika Dutta

About Alolika:
Alolika Dutta is a poet, writer, and spoken word artist from Bombay, India. Occasionally, she also likes to paint. She has previously had her work published in Thought Catalog, Mental Movement Magazine, Feminism in India, and Coldnoon. Additionally, she has been featured on The Medium.
Social Media links:

Artwork is “Palazzo da Mula at Venice” by Claude Oscar Monet.

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