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Photo: courtesy - Nampreet Singh, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Poetry

Punjabi

A Poem by JASPREET SINGH

 

 

 





Just when they wrote its obituary in the old world,

Punjabi
came to Canada

It landed in fertile blue-berry fields

of the Fraser valley
It arrived with all its puns
in the aisles of superstores

In glass bottles, plastic usually filled with turmeric and cayenne

It landed attached to clothes, footwear and hand-luggage
And just to confuse the immigration guard it entered
mixed with peoples’ breath and blood.

No one knows if it was legal, but the voice of Nanak

and Bulleh Shah moved here
and it is staying
with all its alloy words and idioms

dictionaries, its own Romeos and Juliets, the Mirza Sahiba operas

It arrived singing a wedding song and said hello to birds and trees

Some known, some unknown
And bowed before the vast grammar and music
of Cree and Ojibwe and Inuktitut

It greeted the longish Canadian nights

and interminable
indigo dusks
And it tried to comfort and calm them all.

Un-embarrassed by its own cracks and destiny
Its controversies and unmentionables
Punjabi displayed many of its masterpieces in Saskatoon

Quebec and Winnipeg
rivering
towards Malton, then Brampton

“Chak deh phatteh
goooaaalll
Torrronto Maple Leaf dee Hockey Night!”

In Paldi it dusted many of its vowels

bandaged its wounds with newly aggregated

nouns and tones

In Surrey it relaxed on a malmal sheet

on a hand-woven jute cot

With bright bulbs of light
it danced in the community halls of Langley

Using and abusing its melancholic
beautiful adjectives
it unfolded some of its losses
by the Pacific waters

Rehras and Japji echoed in the corridors
of Canadian Parliament
Even the Shield of minerals agrees
the arrival of this language was truly geological.

While in the old world it is dying,

Punjabi blossoms in Canada
nuances English, Spanish and Mandarin

French, Nootka and Chipewyan

Patiently, it studies the land

its ghosts, air and water
Talks to the voices of the dead

Patiently, it turns branches

into roots and flowers

Renewing itself and others

Already the yellow cabs in cities

are fleets
of language laboratories

Already in winter

Punjabi falls on Canadian streets and sidewalks

as both snow and baraf
beckoning everyone to slip

slide on its intimate

yet enigmatic surfaces

Sweet tongue
make me fall,
make me rise,
make me play again. Name again.

Unlock ruins, riddles, even things

which did not leave

a trace. Teach me
a crisp 3000-year old song. Restore

deep wells within my heart. You are

where my mother lives now



*   *   *   *   *

 

Jaspreet Singh is a Canadian citizen and lives in Alberta. He is the author of Seventeen Tomatoes, a short story collection (Véhicule Press, 2004) and Chef, a novel (Véhicule Press, 2008; Bloomsbury, 2010) — both books engage with the damaged landscapes of Kashmir. His novel Helium (Bloomsbury, 2013) is a powerful meditation on historical forgetting. Jaspreet’s work has been published internationally and has been translated into several languages. This poem is from his first collection of poems, November.

May 5, 2018

Conversation about this article

1: Sukhmani Kaur (Chandigarh, Punjab), May 05, 2018, 10:49 AM.

Jaspreet Singh is, for me, the uncrowned Poet Laureate of the Sikh diaspora. How fortunate for us to have such a gift and blessing to our community!

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