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‘I heard a full choir, Ma’

Collection of poetry on the themes of motherhood, empowerment, love and loss by acclaimed poet Bashabi Fraser. Drawing on her Indian and British life experience, Fraser engages with hard-hitting current issues such as climate change, war and the prevalence of violence against women in India.

Extract from Letters to My Mother and other mothers
By Bashabi Fraser
Published by Luath Press

I saw you last night

I saw you as you were, last night
I had brought a friend home
I hadn’t warned you
You opened the door
Your face was soft as it always was
Suffused by the magic of twilight
The open door let in.
I said, Ma, this is my colleague
You smiled, your eyes a melting caress
You stepped back to let us in
Your dining table was laid, expectant
Behind you. You walked effortlessly
To the kitchen to bring in an extra plate
Your quiet acceptance flowed
From your inherent generosity
Before unannounced strokes
Froze sections of your once discerning brain
And you altered to the unquestioning presence
That wasn’t and yet was you,
But I saw you last night
Not as you had become in the post-twilight years
But as you always were
And will be for me, my mother.

 

Darkling I listen

It was in the stillness of midnight when the goslings
Had retired with mothers from their springtime dance
That my friend called me to step outside
While villages slept in the south of France.

Under the stars that lit a magnificent chapel
I could hear the deafening chorus of frogs, delirious
With song, who, my friend said, were tiny denizens
Of the world with voices ambitiously searching the stars.

But these were not the vocalists
She wished me to hear. She told me to walk round
To the other side of her home, and there I heard
A heavenly choir that drowned the sound

Of the throaty clamour that had surprised me earlier.
‘Listen to the nightingales’ my friend urged
And I did, hearing the trilling and twitter,
The chirping and whistling, the harmony that surged

Through the branches above me. I was bewildered.
I asked, ‘but which one is the nightingale?’
I could hear the smile in her voice as she said
‘Only nightingales sing at night.’ And in the pale

Starlight, a line I had carried with me
All my life was suddenly suffused with illumination.
Of course, Keats could not have heard the bird
Singing in full-throated ease seeking its twilight destination.

He heard it in the stillness of the night
And I heard a full choir Ma, with a whole language
Of harmony, calling and answering
Improvising in ecstasy with freedom and courage

That comes with the knowledge of dominance
And excellence as all other songsters slumber.
So Ma, I heard the nightingales singing
Their full repertoire just as Keats had done one summer.

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