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I Ran The Marathon Without Shoes

November 14th, 2021

Poem by Jhilam Chattaraj

Artwork provided by Jhilam Chattaraj

I Ran The Marathon Without Shoes


I filled their fluid eyes — 

a teacher fixed to a screen. 


Teens, pandemically 

broke into twenties,


whispered into the clear text 

of undergrad evenings, 


how knowledge

did not turn hand-ward. 


Learning happened 

inside Apps and logins,


songs of the syllabus 

shadowed our routines.


I ran the marathon without shoes —

wrestled with a slumbering machine,


surrendered words to weary webinars.  

Twice quarantined between the hollow


of walls, the expanse of electric air,

I became the sum of pixels and spreadsheets.


But this claim is without 

the joy of a blackboard,


the gentle watch over 

the ones doodling a poet,


or secretly messaging a lover in class.

Oh, this compulsion! 


This creation 

without a heart, warm and beating!


I print the sky with grades

of girls who wait at the mouth 


of sunken rivers. They are traceless. 

Yet, I mark them ‘passed,’


hoping, them to return 

to hear me billow, Shelley’s ‘west wind’ 


on a still Indian summer.

I try the same on ether,


offer warm wings of spring;

they make it even with a frog emoticon, 



under rain-beaten mushrooms. 


Advance Praise for Noise Cancellation

Jhilam Chattaraj writes of the challenges and rewards of teaching, writing, loving, and connecting across distances in a universe of apps and absent ringtones. Wry, affectionate, delicately-modulated and determined to ‘sing sunward,’ these poems in praise of food, love, longing, and literature map the recurrent and ancient human need to "tap the air / for the sweet wound of knowledge." — ARUNDHATHI SUBRAMANIAM

Noise Cancellation — with its urgent and sometimes visceral evocations — is written largely using a well-tended couplet form. The parallel lines here allude to and offer contrapuntal dualities of our current fraught times — the pair and play of yin-yang lyrics reflecting the presence of too much vacuous noise that drowns out our interior reflective sounds — the contradictory ironies of fact and ‘fake news’ where “jarring neurons map an ambush” — the menace of ‘cancel culture’ and rumour-mongers as “ears pour nude noise / on palms that swell and spill.” Jhilam Chattaraj is an intelligent poet and critic, an exciting young voice to watch out for! — SUDEEP SEN 


Jhilam is truly a poet rooted in the pain and reality of our turbulent present. And finding the words to nail it, she provides what good poetry should; relief and sanity. ‘Sari’ leaves you softly musing on forgotten feelings. In ‘Final Feathers,’ the lines, “Season after season we mapped / winged massacres along war lines,” leave you gasping for breath. This poetry without being didactic can delicately wring your heart, reopening old wounds, forcing you to look at the truth in the face. Jhilam has a lot to give us if we are capable of taking it. — VASANTH KANNABIRAN


NOISE CANCELLATION envisions a sustainable consciousness. A way of life where attention is paid to everyday details instead of constant digital alerts. The rich aroma of potatoes in poppy seeds, the beauty of block prints, the pain of a homeless dog, the dilemma of online classes, the joy of growing plants and holding a fistful of wet earth, the sweet and sour waters of Ugadi Pachadi — these become the core of poems, nourishing the mind, body, and soul — weary of the unavoidable chaos of the present world.

 Links to the recent Book Reviews  Colorado Review and Hong Kong Review.


Author Bio: 

Jhilam Chattaraj is an academic and poet based in Hyderabad, India. Her works have been published at Room, Colorado Review, World Literature Today, Voice and Verse, Queen Mob's Tea House, Asian Cha, Not Very Quiet, Burrow, Cerebration, Porridge, Minnow Literary Review, The West Trestle Review and Guftugu among several other national and international anthologies. She has published the books When Lovers Leave Poetry Stays (2018) and Corporate Fiction (2018). She has been invited to several national and international, literary venues like the Jaipur Literature Festival, Hyderabad Literary Festival, Ozark Poets and Writers Collective. She received the CTI Excellence Award, 2019 from the Centre for Transforming India and Department of Language and Culture, Government of Telangana.

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