जल कतक रेणु न्यायः
The light on the window sums it up:
This is the year of drought in the city—
Days are endless as the land endures the heat.
Buildings bare sockets, hardly dent the glare
Of the sun harsh on stumps of shrubs, moving
The river of lives dry and ache of thirst.
At noon after hours of rest, the spring gurgles a diamond stud
Of water. My mother covers her head with the mulmul
The bottom of the well,
The rocks don’t hear the pot,
Relent a spoonful, cloudy and honey-stained.
The palms ridged by industry
Fills with the resin
From clearing nuts. The paste mixed in the muddy water:
A lesson in the amalgamation of science & spiritualism.
This world does not exist
Likewise, it cannot be dismissed as non-existent
– Extracted from Dakshinamurti Stotram
I cannot tell anymore if the walls are blue
Or the petals of a rose. Patterns on the grill
Sharpen at noon when the milkman rattles
The gate. The smell of coffee, the dark
Decoction drowns the whirl of cream
Before the vapor engulfs the face, smudges
The kohl into a raincloud. The icy fingers
Rip the coat, notwithstanding buttons of bones.
Opposed to my silent bearing, the walls
Wheeze squalls of exhalations, the tiled roof
Breathes the storm brewing over the bay.
These are ways maps are drawn, routes
The city bus takes in the grooves of the brain
Filled with buckets of tar: everything real
Duplicates by dubious recurrence— déjà vu.
The builder showed
around the house, the backyard
she visualized a garden.
Her eyes rose
the stone wall to the crown
of banyan trees skirting
the property next door.
When she came to know what lay
on the other side,
the pearl loosened
from clasp as the chest
heaved from smoke,
contrary to the belief the body is all water.
When he said: your child looks like my dead son, she held
hers in the hollow of the chest.
The milk seeped through the lilac mulmul kurta.
He said that was a good death
— as if the loss is a fruit, tender with the taste of earth—
a good yield of Banganapalli.
There could be rotten ones, secretions pooled in cavities.
He carried a small body
and then the next
outside the village,
shoulder ripped by pain, a part of brain telling:
a cage of warm bones
now dead wood,
noisy, defying the lashing flames
like little boys who dart out of a mother’s attention.
She kneaded mashed yam after rubbing her finger crevices with oil.
Rolling balls with spikes of chili,
her eyes watchful as sweat beaded the upper lip.
He thought he could travel
beyond seas, build
a home, grow a maple tree, tend azaleas.
He did not notice she cracked like summer earth,
skin clogged with garlic flakes, the mango sucked dry,
pith scooped by pyre.
His home with sunroom was soon rendered a graveyard.
As if fumigation can wipe away
years of Samsara—
an ochre scarf around his nose,
he stretches under the springs
of the sofa
Nothing has changed – he need not
live in a cave
contorting the limbs
in an attitude of surrender
Everything is changed too:
he eats a bowl of nothing at forenoon,
at sunset slices in quarters
peeling away the skin to watch the fruit
Not knowing how to celebrate or mourn
weakens the scalp of thoughts:
assign patterns, draw maps,
break time into chants
the morning light wash
mossy tree bark, the bird cries
in looping urgency
mistaking radiance for heat
The dimple of yellow enfolds
the false daisy in the backyard
when she asks:
at what point did you stop looking?
The clutter chokes as she offers coffee. Her hands shake:
flowers in the rain from the previous night, the soft petal face.
She pauses on giving the cup, dips her fingers in the salt jar,
sprinkles textures from her mottled skin on cooked okra. When
knuckles clink on porcelain, the materiality of his waiting ends.
It is known he must not wear a tailored garment: robed
in self-imposed seclusion, not a stitch on the body. Breathing
deep he moves across the small space, picking one rice grain
after another for the silverfish burrowed in the old book crusted
in time and dust, seed and sod, breath and saliva.
She holds against him for wanting all she desires. That is a sting,
the razor snips his curls, the silver mined in dense forest—
white horses on a moonless night. There is no space for two.
She cooks, slices moonstones of baby radish
in the tamarind broth of muddy thoughts as he takes the path.
He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.
Home is the place I can think from— carapace of dust
from milling crowd outside the window.
The street lights go off one after another, the ring of mist
diffuses like the dispersal of a cloud of bees.
I sit in this tight circle eying how far others throw their nets:
some come back to stuff dirt of the earth in their mouths,
most uprooted listen to the tree fall in the distant forest
in a soft thud of grief as they hold their warm mug of coffee
and look out at the snow-covered driveway. How do I hold
her in tenderness— one way of tending a life is to stand in a queue
at the shop as beans get roasted. It takes time to prepare
a tumbler of frothy coffee— a lifetime if it is the final gulp.
You in your chair overlooking the deck and I in my terrace where
the hibiscus shrub is eaten by mealybugs, hold the cup of absence.
You ask, can music do that – curl the tongue around the stitch of ache –
when the note touches the ceiling of the hospital room as you take
your walk and the night sky rotting green burns at edges with city lights.
You wear black, rest like fractured old wood on the migraine flare
that flames your body. I gather your feet to trace the rings of age, sluices
of calcium whorled in volcanic blooms. I cannot peel away your dreams:
they march one after another down the jungle path to snake across my feet.
You and I pack grief in Samsonite, as I haul the suitcase into the car
I cannot say what weighs more – all that you carry or that you leave behind.
the sun on the palm frond breathes
salt and the breeze sets inland
the water sweeps in linen tides
waves dither in a band of silver, the cursive script
scrolls end of the day
the grey of her eyes
washes thousand morning glory flowers
faces pressed on dark silt, their pollen
star her iris,
gravelly in shots of goldthread the sand rises
in the silk he holds against her skin
Intuiting is more than a matter of shedding clothes
Naked at the edge of the rock he forked the wild river
bore the surge with the energy gushing in the veins
Is it possible to leave the body
as he did his footwear at the path leading to the ghat When throbbing
with neither life nor death the universe trims down
to a monotone Leaning into the river he redacted
words: the language of life song of existence In the burning
touch of farewell the tenderness of water
in the nonexistence of it
the colours climbed the hill and wove his path to Mall road for a smoke.
At the temperature nudity bore wings
through the teeth of cold, their bodies ruptured like milkweed pods.
The temple bell in the last prayer of the day
beguiled the crazy woman in a camphor-like dream. Ra pichai, the tramp howled.
The coal skin combusted the creases of her need.
He shifted under layers of dust from the freight car, tore the length of sleep
in the red carriages, trailed spiral trajectories
instead of the linear – a Ferris wheel. Her hub pulsed in belligerent energy,
unspooled into stars. From his chest to sternum
she speckled a galaxy of lies and he lured a river into the mossy art on her skin.
Step into the water, he said, mouth full
with thrashing fins of velli meenu. Her garment darkened thirstily the chalice
of silence by drowning his mouth of sounds.