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Two Poems: Memories and Satsuma

Susmita Bhattacharya

Writer’s Note: In 2016, I started a Facebook Group with a few of my friends who, like me, had just finished their treatment for breast cancer. We decided to write a poem a week, using the prompts from Jo Bell’s book, 52: Write a Poem a Week. This was a very special group and a special time for me to connect with these women, write poetry together and just find comfort in each other’s company. We have sadly lost a friend from that group now. At this vulnerable time in my life, I often sat and pondered about my life, my past… perhaps there’d be a future. ‘Memories’ was a poem I wrote from a prompt in that book at the time. I often write about my experience of cancer, its effect on me physically, mentally and emotionally, and how it affected my family. The losses and gains have made a profound impact in my life and in the lives of my loved ones. I wrote Satsuma, which is about loss, in a workshop led by Kathryn Bevis, who was Hampshire Poet Laureate in 2020. Kathryn’s workshops have inspired many poems and I’m grateful for her patient way of teaching and encouragement.


Memories

They come, all at once, to my door.
Come, come
I invite them in
Let’s talk and share all the stories.
My memories come flooding in
In a mood to chat, they 
sit around the table
start telling me
stories that happened long ago,
nudging me into remembrance. 
I pass the wine around, 
soon the chink of glass and the
arpeggios of laughter
wrap me up in the warmth of their words,
My memories.
They are fighting to tell their stories first,
Each one promising to be more enchanting,
More nostalgic, more truthful.
I see the memory of my mother’s festive feasts
the smells of her cooking promising contentment and love.
My father singing his favourite songs, watching the world from
the kitchen window.
I watch the memory of my first love
Toying with his glass, sullenly looking at me
Why did you leave? We could have been good together.
I talk to the memory of my firstborn,
The night I sat and stared into her deep, black eyes
The first time I realised I had become a mother,
That I had just given birth – to a daughter.
Sitting beside me, pouring me another glass of wine are the
memories of school, college, my first job
laughing at their own jokes. 
The memory of my first piano recital
glances at my fingers, shaking her head quietly
until I hide my fingers under the table.
As the night wears on, the stories get louder
More adventurous, rebellious, heart breaking
The memory of my left breast makes me cry
when she is speaks of being separated from her sister.
But the memories I wish were here,
I am desperate for:
My grandmother’s embrace 
The roses in her garden and bedtime stories
stay outside the door.
No matter how much I entreat them
to come and drink some wine,
They remain in the shadows
between recollection and
loss.


Satsuma

You hold this satsuma
tenderly
in the palm of your hand.
Its goose-bumped surface
begs your attention.
Gently,
you prise it
open, the white pith is a
bandage – protecting, healing.
The segments cupping the heart
that is torn.
Ridged.
You cradle this satsuma
like the child that
lives in your yearnings.
A flower that will
never bloom.


Susmita Bhattacharya is an Indian-born writer. Her debut novel, The Normal State of Mind (Parthian, 2015) was long-listed at the Mumbai Film Festival, 2018. Her short story collection, Table Manners (Dahlia Publishing, 2018) won the Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection (2019) and has been featured on BBC Radio 4. She teaches creative writing at Winchester University and facilitates the ArtfulScribe Mayflower Young Writers programme in Southampton. Find her on Twitter: @Susmitatweets.