Jhilmil Breckenridge




The Sanskrit for ash is asah

Sanskrit, asah, “ashes, dust”


Ashes to ashes, dust to dust


Ash on a holy man’s forehead

Ash sprinkled with flowers,


on the Ganges, with diyas

Holy rites, buying nirvana


If moksha was that easy,

wouldn’t all the fish


go to heaven?






The leaves turn to gold

and shiver through birdsong.

On the table, two cups of tea steam

while the floor is littered with last night —

two delicate stemmed glasses,

red rimmed, lying askew,

my boots, your jeans.

A setting it could be in any city

of the world we visited;

all we ever needed —

warm pillows, cool moonlight.

My hair tangled in your fingers,

the way your hipbone angled

under the tracing of my fingers.

My waking early to watch you sleep,

the morning light generous as you age.

My T-shirt rough over bruised breasts,

the hard floor under my bare feet,

the cool water on my skin as I wash away

salt and spent desire.

I remember everything; the first kiss

in a barsati in New Delhi, the furtive

making love in a stairwell,

the unending hunger, then and now,

just like joy in birdsong,

and the quiver of golden leaves.




The Middle Aged Woman’s Sashay


Perhaps I am already dead.

Perhaps I spend too much time in cemeteries.


I lie still, on the floor, shavaasana.

Corpse pose, for the uninitiated, you know.


I am prone, barely moving, my breath soft.

Perhaps I am already dead.


Snapshots flash through my mind,

running through chana fields as a child,


laughing in the car with my would-be husband,

baking banana cake with my boys, the house scented


with cinnamon. Twirling around a dance floor at 17

in Kabul. My head in my grandma’s lap.


Perhaps I am already dead. She is.

Perhaps I am already dead. No one


opens doors for me anymore. Cars don’t

slow down as I sashay. Or perhaps middle aged


women don’t sashay? Perhaps I am already dead.

Heads don’t turn when I walk into a room anymore.


My hair defiantly silver, my nails unpainted.

The writing life. Perhaps I am already dead.


Watching dragonflies, geckos and butterflies at my window,

their short lives so busy, so full.


Perhaps I am already dead.

Perhaps I am already dead.



Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist. She is the Founder of Bhor Foundation, a mental health charity. Her areas of work are mental health, domestic violence and trauma. Jhilmil is currently working on a PhD in the UK and her poetry and other writings have been widely published and anthologised. She tweets at jhilmilspirit.


Featured photo ‘Manikarnika Cremation Ghat, Varanasi© Dennis Jarvis

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