Home » Issues & Poems » Issue Seventeen » THE BLACK GODDESS


Siddhartha Bose

‘The Black Goddess’ is part of a sequence of long poems that will form my new collection, provisionally titled Elegy for Water, which explores the psychogeography of mourning, as well as the ways in which London and Kolkata (once the ‘second city’ of the Empire), reflect and refract each other as sites of historical change. The poem grew over a period of a few years. In the winter of 2013, I was in Kolkata filming material for my play, The Shroud. I was particularly inspired by the area called Kumartuli, or ‘potter’s village’, where artisans build idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. The process itself is fascinating and circular, indicative of the renewal and passing of time. As the poem states, silt is drawn from the river Hooghly (a tributary of the Ganges), and used to sculpt these statues and idols. A year later, these idols are (re)immersed in the river. ‘The Black Goddess’ is a walk through this strange surrealist landscape of Kumartuli, with a specific focus on the iconography, physicality, and power of the goddess Kali, the goddess of death and time. The poem is also a search, as the speaker meditates on the death of his father. This poem has grown out of this process of wandering, filming, and writing. I am specifically interested in using the images of the cityscape as a manner of invocation, a revealing of things unsaid, of psychic states that lie within, and beyond, words.


Kumartuli, potter’s colony,

north Calcutta. Artists


dredge up silt from the Ganges,

mix it with mud, clay, straw.


Build idols of dogs and goddesses.


A year later, when the festivities are done, they

 immerse these idols

back into the river.


Clay, silt, water.




An abandoned house

opens like a giant umbrella.


With cherubed porticos, peeling cupolas, imitation

classical columns. The

skeleton of a racked giant.


All around, decay.


Wet palm trees surround the house

—a mirage—and

bury it like a repressed memory.

(Or a corpse)


Tar and mud

bake in the afternoon





The city belongs to the

black goddess. She is



Her body is



Her tongue

boils in the work-

shop of a poor man,


camouflage artist, master

architect of Hindu dreams.


Tigers roam, staring into

green cameras.


All around, giant myths

congregate in cheese and tack.




Saraswati— clay-hands

posed like a dirty lotus, a sitar

curled in her right arm.


Durga, on her

lion. Kali,

black, wild in her

red eyes.


These poor men build to

intimate their own impotence.




Kali dances on

exploding chests.


Kali rips male-hearts with her





Kali is dredged up from the

river, your blood, your ash.


(the city is your corpse,

o daddy)


Or rather, you are a

floating bubble in her

oozing body.


Clay, silt, mud.




Did she visit you in a

dream, the black goddess? Did she warn you of


death and time?


She is a patchwork of a dress, a

 straw scaffold. Strains of black mud.


A man in a smudged, oily vest,

wearing a checked dhoti,


scoops up wet clay from a gray bucket,

layers it lovingly onto straw, with thick

palms, polishing.


Other small, bare-bodied men—

squirming insects in the tawny,

radioactive heat—in shorts


carry dirty water in broken,

yellow gasoline cans.


(Two large cans

speared with a bamboo pole,

carried on shoulders)


Their women chew paan,

spit, sell tacky statues for a pittance.


They smell my acid wonder.

A radio blares.




Around, the

clang of hammers, the

fire of a Bunsen burner, the steel

caning of a chisel.


I ask one how long he’s been

doing this, sculpting



‘Since birth,’ he replies, mockingly.


He is not one, he is many, like hands.

He speaks for his red comrades.


He knows, despite my language,

I am a foreigner.


I ask him for directions to the river.


He doesn’t reply. He goes back to his work.




Tea boils in scratched-up

steel vats. When it

froths, it looks unhealthy. I

drink in a tiny red-earth urn, slurping.


‘How do you like our Kumartuli?’ a short man in

glasses asks me, fiddling his nose.


I say I like it well enough.


I say I am looking for you, holy

motherfather of god.


He lifts in a belly-laugh.


A half-finished Ganesh

spills onto a burning

can of petrol.


Flames gather all around.


I see your ghost, dear father,

howling in the fire,


blackened by Kali

taking her revenge.


You explode with the

radiance of a thousand


burning brides, sati-voiced,

lit by the city’s red scorch, its


pagan famines, its jagged





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