Matamaal — A Poem by Saba Zahoor

Jun 13, 2021

Saba Zahoor presents a poem that is close to the heart of anyone who has experienced the love, warmth and care of grandparents. These verses are a testament to that love, because more than in its presence, it is perhaps more deeply felt in an absence or in a void of some sort. More often than not, familial love is treated in simplistic terms between emission and reception that defines a relationship based on reciprocity or recognition. This poem sheds light on a shared experience and sentiment felt by a wide range of people around the world who are caregivers to elderly parents or grandparents who suffer in a particular way. Its verses tell us that we are not alone in that shared experience with the poem itself bearing testimony to that fact.

Matamaal

The fabled place that existed in the olden days
of childhood and grandparents.

My little feet scurried away with a heavy heart
—And the feet really do have one,
hence the heaviness, the hesitation, the tumble—
from the ring of hibiscus and sting nettles,
from their stealthy kisses on the hand;
to my grandmother:
The headscarf of her favourite colour
—in my memory inextricably overlapping—
the highland green of the living
with the stone moss of the dead—
tied at the back of her head,
like much of her life,
into a knot of worries;
wiping away my tears with it...
daubing my hand with clay...
giving my pain a proper burial,
all with a headstone and a riot of daffodils.

It's not as if I was naive
—which I was—
that I kept calling out for Grandfather
even as my fever dreams
kept crashing upon me like stale waves.
If he could explain why the floor under me

It’d be okay.
It was he after all who'd taught me
the Archimedes’ principle
—how to stay afloat,
with his shaving kit and a bowl full of lathery water.
It was much later in life, though,
I learnt
explanations can render things meaningless.
So what of it, if
James Parkinson had described it in
An Essay on the Shaking Palsy?
Two hundred years later,
why did it still hurt
when my grandfather couldn't remember my name?

 

*Matamaal: the Kashmiri word for maternal grandparents’ home, endearingly called as such.

 

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About the Contributor

Saba Zahoor was born and raised in Srinagar, Kashmir. She is a civil engineer by profession and an alumna of NIT, Srinagar. In a conflict zone, nobody can escape self expression. It is there even in their silence. She does not call herself a poet; poetry is just her way around writing daily. In her free time, she spends a considerable amount of time on books of any genre, especially those on dystopia, existentialism and absurdism. She is a science enthusiast, and passionate about astronomy, archeology, history and psychology.