Debasish Mishra

Smokes and Wishes

Once again, I wake and wipe the swish of sweat off my forehead
It feels as if I was sleepwalking in dreams and the night is half-burnt

Memory plays like the refracting rhythm of fishes in an aquarium—
colorful, countless, cancerous—and I try to hew its tender neck

as they do with the nameless lambs in a blood-stained slaughterhouse
My memory is a smokescreen now—Are smokescreens meant to be blank?

Or it’s full with all the smokes burnt in my dad’s lifetime gathered in one place
I imagine a huge container pregnant with all the butts, the shell-casings
of a million bullets—Is this a picture of his lungs? My mother
always said, ‘my dad didn’t burn the cigarettes but they burnt him’
Is it that easy to exchange the subject and the object?
Was he an object after all? I’m restless as though a storm 
has raised its head within my chest and meanwhile the fresh fruit 
of morning has arrived in the window after an incomplete, unripe night

Tomorrow, I know, I’ll wake again with the cold feet of memory
stretched against my face like a layer of unpleasant moisture

But I want to get rid of its tentacles at least for this moment
You may call this an urge for temporary freedom

I pick up my phone and scroll through the newsfeed as I always do
It’s No Tobacco Day—as the post at the top reads me
I wonder, if Facebook employs Artificial Intelligence
capable to intrude into the walls of human memory

I get up as though I’m possessed by dad and my body 
feels light like a sheet of paper floating in some obscure stream
I look at his lively picture-frame and light a candle— 
if cigarette is a devil, a candle is a God—
with a wish that cigarettes shouldn’t burn any parent, anywhere 


Bridge of Slumber

I have burnt the bridge of slumber—which runs from
 evenings	 	           	 to	  		   mornings—
with				 the			  smoldering 
 fire				 of			    dreams
and thoughts.						 Wakefulness

is its face.  The river of dark mourning awaits me. 	Leviathan-like
nightmares half-sunk in the viscous night. 	Each inch is a difficult
movement. 	How will the night pass?     It will pass just like the other
nights that I have survived. 	Memory is a ferry to sail me through
this night, yet again. 	As it has done over the years. 	Always.
The glimpse of my dad's toothless smile 		and the moment
of heartbreak	—You are crying over spilt milk—	play before my eyes
again, again, 	till the streetlights are drowned by a blinding sun.


Debasish Mishra is a Senior Research Fellow at National Institute of Science Education and Research, HBNI, India, who has earlier worked with United Bank of India and Central University of Odisha. He is the recipient of the 2019 Bharat Award for Literature and the 2017 Reuel International Best Upcoming Poet Prize. His recent work has appeared in Arkana, Apricity, Hawaii Pacific Review, York Literary Review, Dash Literary Journal, and elsewhere. His first book, Lost in Obscurity and Other Stories, was published by Book Street Publications, India, in 2022.