Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra Poems

On one permitted breath
(proved by chanting kabbadi)
he runs inside from the line
for an arc of Walsall's defenders -
...

Ah the Raj! Our mother-incarnate
Victoria Imperatrix rules the sceptred
sphere - she oversees legions of maiden
‘fishing fleets' breaking the waves
for the love of a ‘heaven-born' Etonian!
Smoke from cheroots, fetes on lawns,
dances by moonlight at Alice in Wonderland -
no the Viceroy - the Viceroy's ball!
Lock, stock and bobbing along on
palanquins to gothic verandahs where dawn
Himalayas through Poobong-mist,
the twelve-bore or swagger stick topi-and-khaki
bobbery shikar, Tally ho! for the boars
in a dead-leaf hush and by Amritsar
what a bang!bang! bagging the flamiest tiger!
Jackals, panthers, leopards, blackbucks
and swanny bustards, pig-sticking, Kipling,
Tatler, Tollygunge, High Jinks and howdahs
for mansion whacking banks, and the basso
profundo of evensong, frog song, poppy-pods,
housey-housey and hammocks under the Milky Way . . .

Tromping home trumps - here come the cummerbund
sahibs tipsy with stiff upper lips
for burra pegs of brandy pawnee,
pink gin and the Jaldi punkawallaaahhhh!
on six-meal days with tiffin and peacocks
and humps and tongue and the croquet and polo
and snooker at Ooty and yaboos, and sabre-
curved mustachios twirling for octoroons
panting in gunna-green fields, and ayahs
akimbo and breathless zenanas behind
bazaars where the nautch and the sun never sets
when mango's the bride-bed of lingam-light,
in a jolly good land overflowing with silk and
spice and all the gems of the earth! Er
darling, it's not quiiite the koh-i-noor
but would you . . . (on a train that's steaming
and hooting on time through a tunnel) Ooo darling
a diamond! You make me feel so alive.
...

How oft do mates bang on at length about
the length they're hung and grab their crotch to slash
the air then chuck an arm at will around
a chum while necking Stella till they're lashed.
To tell the truth, I'm really not well hung,
and thus I hide from mates my prince's state,
this conk is king of my poor frame, no trunks
would lunchbox find to bank a lady's gaze.
And yet I hope the guys won't feel too down
when I recount my lover's hardly wimpish -
watch her stiffen over corrrrrs! from louts
who check her out too long (for she's that fit!).
In bed, most nights she'll sigh: O love, I love
the worldly way you work your subtle touch.
...

Dad and me were watching the video -
‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony'. It's about three
brothers separated after the family is parted
by gangsters. You can get it with subtitles, Miss.
When Anthony, who grows up in a Catholic home,
begged Christ for the address of his real parents
then crossed himself, I jumped off our royal red
sofa, joined Anthony with his prayer:
Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary,
four-quartering myself then curtseying a little.

Dad just stared at me, knocking his turban side
to side that I almost thought it would come off
which it normally does when he's doing his press ups
and his face goes mauve. Instead he took off
his flip-flop (the one with a broken thong),
held it in the air, shouting in ‘our' language:
vut idiot! If you vunt to call on Gud,
call anytime on anyvun of our ten gurus.
Do yoo tink is white Gud's wife yor mudder?

Dad's got a seriously funny way Miss,
sometimes he cries, and says he's going to give me
to a Sikh school, a proper school. That's why
I did what my cousin Ashok does at our local
temple - while you were all doing Hail Mary
to end registration, I first locked my hands,
knelt down, prayed with this ditty we do on Sundays,
imagined the Golden Temple and our bearded Gods
to your up-on-the-cross one, then roared:
Wahay Guru!
Wahay Guru!
Wahay Guru!
Like that.
...

She never looked like other boys' mums.
No one ever looked without looking again
at the pink kameez and balloon'd bottoms,

mustard oiled trail of hair, brocaded pink
sandals and the smell of curry. That's why
I'd bin the letters about Parents' Evenings,

why I'd police the noise of her holy songs,
check the net curtains were hugging the edges,
lavender spray the hallway when someone knocked,

pluck all the gold top milk from its crate
in case the mickey-takers would later disclose it,
never confessing my parents' weird names

or the code of our address when I was licked
by Skin-heads (by a toilet seat)
desperate to flush out the enemy within.

I would have felt more at home had she hidden
that illiterate body, bumping noisily into women
at the market, bulging into its drama'd gossip,

for homework - in the public library with my mates,
she'd call, scratching on the windows. Scratching again
until later, her red face would be in my red face,

two of us alone, I'd strain on my poor Punjabi,
she'd laugh and say I was a gora, I'd only be freed
by a bride from India who would double as her saathi.

Nowadays, when I visit, when she hovers upward,
hobbling towards me to kiss my forehead
as she once used to, I wish I could fall forward.
...

The tree my father grew
from his garden I take an axe

and branch by branch
I break the tree

and set to work
the million maddened bits,

the fire of night.
Only for ash I keep.
...

all the girls say they love me
all their mums say i'm lovely
ever since i lived in the clouds

where you first said you loved me
ever since you left
i've been raining on the road
where you first said you loved me
...

8.

i knot my tongue
i nail my lips
i zip my lids

& still u say
i say u harm

u hook my arms
u hood my head
u lose my legs

& still u say
i say u harm
...

Pip Pip, today's feature for Monarchy Month is the first
Indian knighted, in 1842. His name is Sahib Jamsetjee
Jeejeebhoy. But why was a Queen keen to knight a native?

The answer lies with the man in a red ‘phone-box',
the Arch Liberator, the Truth-Sleuth, you know him
as every lady's Tonk-Honker: Johhhn Simpsonian!!!

O John Simpsonian, do you ZoomBoom for us?
Pip Pip . . . our connection is scrambling . . . I'll be brief . . .
This self-made good chap had a chequered mid-life . . .

It seems that in Opium Wartime Jeejeebhoy ran
the speediest clippers bound for China . . . As you see,
I've landed at the port . . . at the Yangtze gorge . . .

Those hordes of mango wood boxes are Jamsetjee's . . .
And the men with machetes are unloading each box
with brown balls inside as big as a comely lady's breast . . .

O John Simpsonian, through gyres and galaxies,
you're the boldest ZoomBoomer! If I may sum up,
in this dim droopy night . . . the love-sick mass of men

lined along the bank . . . as though a whole nation
of John Chinamen and Shangrilanders sleepwalking
for a toke, a cut, a suck of the dream of empire . . .
...

Daljit Nagra Biography

Daljit Nagra was born and raised in London and has published three collections of poetry, all with Faber & Faber. His most recent book is Ramayana (2013), a retelling of the Asian epic.)

The Best Poem Of Daljit Nagra

Kabbadi Keegun!!!

On one permitted breath
(proved by chanting kabbadi)
he runs inside from the line
for an arc of Walsall's defenders -
with a lunge he touches a limb,
the defender must break to pin him
out of his breath, but that's a dream
as my uncle's already turning
and turned shimmying for the centre.

With our granddads and dads, us fans
of Southall invade waving
fivers and tenners - slapped
on his oil'd chest or laid at his feet,
cos he's the raider who scored
the trophy point, against his pleas
he's raised through the crowd to the sun
and compared by chants to his hero:
Keeegun!!! Keeegun!!! Keeegun!!!

In class, I'd go with the chat of
Keegan winning the European Cup
or Golden Boot with Hamburg
hitting the charts with ‘Head over
Heels', but I'd keep our Keegan
and the ways of our world
to myself or I'd be knocked
into touch
by lads up for footie alone.

This fatherless boat-boy, a packer
at Walls (who sleeps on my floor!),
inherited debts to the family,
yet he was the Captain of England
touring the globe on unpaid leave.
Behind his back, while he's at his
peak, my parents hounding
the marriage-brokers to win
the finest figure.

Retired to Mansfield as part
of the deal, he runs a cousin's store.
Though once in a while he's forced
after thugs who escape in cars
he'll chase round the bend as they
chuck dribbling cans at his feet
impressed by the man they've heard
will follow them over the rise
with the ends of the sun on his back.

Daljit Nagra Comments

Eva Dawn Sankar 29 March 2018

I am stunned by the wondrous joy these words and images have put into my day.

2 1 Reply

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