The Domestic Sundial

by Nin Harris


 Tun Teja

My ferocity translates into rough husks of
coconuts ground against her mouth,
the ultimate sin against an old woman
evoked in your imagery of her ravaged lips.
They would have you believe this crime
weighed more than the thousand unkindnesses
performed by the Sultan you would have me wed.

Storytellers do not furnish you with the pain of betrayal;
one last confidant bought with bronze and cheroots,
a silken tongue oozing syllabled seductions by proxy
to mesmerise like the cobra's eye before it strikes.

My body paid for her injured, betel-stained mouth,
They would have this be my penance not just in life
but also, in your masculine annals of conquest
where our smooth, nut-brown curves  bartered
for land and alliances.

And yet, I allowed a fast boat to steal me away
on a river that snaked southwards towards
the embrace of an aging ruler.

A Royal Admiral wooed me as if for himself alone;
was it really because he was incensed at my cruelty against you?

His were not the saffron-scented persuasions of
your honeyed, evocative tongue, old crone.
His spare phonemes invoked saltwater voyages and
the vast, balmy wind that swoops from the Archipelago
to China, filling me with dreams of a seafarer's freedom
that proved as empty as your bedtime lullabies.

Drugged, moistened, waterlogged by  stories,
my own defeat will ensnare others lured by
the  fragrance of sandalwood and lotus bloom
of pleasure gardens flanking the ornate wooden
palaces of a Sultanate in its death throes.

This is your revenge, complete.


 The Nursemaid

Callused finger-pads rub shine onto the smooth sides and
grooves of kettles and bronze tableware into which
sinuous vines and flowers have been etched.
Pestle and mortar carved from river-stones rub harsh
against digits that have forgotten what it is like to be soft and tender.

Like your hands, princess.

Grease catches on skin and underneath nails,
facilitating ooze of one moment into the next.
History will not ease its march for either of us
and so I bite back stolen moments;
the domestic sundial is not kind.

When it rains, I collect droplets into old, discarded clay urns to cleanse
batik wrappers weighed down with soot and grime.
My aged flesh is scented with  petals rejected from your bath,
shrivelled wedges of calamansi lime and stale rainwater infused
with  dried-up stalks of lemon grass.

This allows me to remember the brief moment
in which I too, was nut-brown and lush.

By embers of coals I wove tall tales
for the only child Allah would let me have;
I fed you with visions of heavenly princes dressed in songket,
phantoms of the forest who live in gold-edged palaces
at the boundaries of his Sultanate and ours,
wooden vehicles that propelled upwards
onto fairy kingdoms in the clouds.

They never tell you that we domestic spirits and nursemaids,
kitchen helpers deemed lesser than dust mites
are humans, or celestial maidens in disguise.
They never tell you that we grow old,
The domestic sundial is not kind.

I sang to you of the invisible folk who bestow  both curses and favours,
like these wrinkles rapidly creasing every surface that used to be smooth.
Like your noble fingers rubbing husks into my mouth
to silence me, as you yourself have been silenced, princess.
Like your lips, uttering words of hatred as you tore mine to pieces.

Rugosa-rose gardens and mango-blossom banquets
were promised if I worked for the Vizier;
I too was fed with words vaporous as slippers of bejewelled glass.
Now, emptiness ebbs into the flow of my stolen dreams,
The domestic sundial is not kind.

Oiled fumes from coconut grease keep vigil with me;
I wipe, scrub and shine internal enclosures of
a house inhabited by glittering souls.
Hard-edged and poised like diamonds upon the glass
like your wit, like your cruel wit.

This forgotten nursemaid needs no djinn-sworn warrior
or duplicitous Royal Admiral for vengeance;
the domestic sundial is not kind.

Nin Harris is a Malaysian poet and writer of mythic fiction. She is of Sri Lankan Tamil, Javanese and Chinese descent. Nin has lived in three countries, and is currently finishing her PhD thesis on Postcolonial Gothic literature at the University of Queensland, Australia. She is also the creator and co-editor of Cabinet des Fées's Demeter's Spicebox and has been published in Jabberwocky 3. Nin has also written about Malay poetry in Stone Telling 3.

Nin is addicted to sharp, tart fruits and has been known to eat lemon wedges raw. Her favourite mangoes are young, green, succulent yet sour enough to bring tears to your eyes.

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