The Cat’s Daughters

Prologue

We grew inside
our mother. She whispered
to us, “You are mine, mine.”
Not knowing better, we agreed.
Beside her skin’s luminous husk,
we were foam-feelings,
limbs creased like clouds,
permeable blobs. We stayed on hold
slowly expanding, surging
slippery like similes.

(i)

We imagined
our mother’s unhurried beauty:
dark and large with a brooding
discretion, bristly from a distance.
While we floated and sighed, she offered us
a lullaby: Oh, I wanted
fish. And that woman took all the flesh
and gave me bones until I grew thin and shrill.

(ii)

We imagined
our mother’s round-eyed anger:
hissing with a hankering for fish.
Shush, my sister. Don’t disturb her now.
we told each other.
She purred: Oh, how I hated that woman.
Until one day I could take it no longer
and said:
Whatever’s in my belly
will be yours and what’s in yours,
will be mine.
I wanted her fish-fed fullness,
but I received you, my daughters.

(iii)

We imagined
our mother’s curse-laden yowl
as we flowed and glowed inside our cradle.
Her maw was an open grin, tail
upraised, ears spitting noise, hunched
twice over. She was love and fear all at once.
Her many children became two. We two.
We woke up to multiple nipples. We were
human
unlike our mother.

Epilogue

We imagine
our mother aging. We worry about her. She tells us:
If the basil dies and the milk curdles, come
save me. And so,
the basil dies and the milk curdles
and we go off on our travels. No,
we marry neither the merchant
nor the river prince. We birth
neither pestles
nor pumpkins. We want to find
our mother, see her silver eyes, touch
her old fur,
kiss her fish-mouth again.

(Editors’ Note: “The Cat’s Daughters” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 20A.)

Nitoo Das

Nitoo Das is a birder, caricaturist, and poet. Her first collection of poetry, Boki, was published in 2008, and her second, Cyborg Proverbs, was brought out by Poetrywala in 2017. Das’s PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University dealt with constructions of the Assamese Identity under the British. Her poetry has been published in journals like Poetry International Web, Pratilipi, Muse India, Eclectica, Seven Sisters Post, North East Review, Four Quarters Magazine, Poetry with Prakriti, Vayavya, etc. Her interests include birding and bird photography, fractals, comic books, horror films, poetry as hypertext, and translation from Assamese to English. Das teaches literature at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi.

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