When the slant of the sun is a lie of the lover
the copper tint on her skin is proportioned to his clouded gaze.
The scent in her hair is from the vettiver soaked in oil
like a mush of earth thick at the roots where the sun doesn’t reach.
When the moon mutes the sunlight, you are no different
from the oleander flowers and the gardenia paled dusty ivory.
The pallor on the banana leaf is the same shade as the darbah grass
in the copper dish where the ghee mutates into poison.
Who can summon the voice of the river weighed by slurry?
In my city even the crows have grown less clamorous.
It is left for someone to bring home what lies cold in unturned earth
that hasn’t known the warmth of a worm’s breath.
When the breath drains between the two notes
of the song, his mind wanders to the terrace of the house.
The heap of rice glistened in the lazy slant of winter light,
her fingers flicked the stones, husked grains.
In the courtyard, the sparrows washed by the song
lapped against the wall marked with flecks of betel juice.
The house has long been gone, the map in his head
smudged as he looks at the disc of music – the rare one
from a terrace concert sung for the dancer. In the street
where Kaveri once danced along the backyard,
now sludge streaked with turmeric from the bath
of vidwan’s wife drains into the river.
He had longed to enter the threshold. His father had warned
only street dogs enter open doors.
Vidwan – Carnatic musician, in the context of the poem
The clay in a pot
is the movement of desire through silence.
The winged seed travels
to the hand that kneads a fist of breath.
As the ground dips under moisture
at the limb of the river
the seed sprouts into a pale sapling.
The sharp October sun
pierces through the squint in the eye
to the undergrowth of memory.
The pearl diver dark and slick with oil
like the sinuous serpent of an eclipse
when it swallows the moon,
drops into the stillness of unbecoming.
She ran on the cobbled stones.
Her waist-length hair oiled and plaited
that swung behind, she mistook for the dog
outside Velan paper mart.
At the temple tank, moss webbed jade in her feet
the turmeric from the Karpagambal shop
glistened on her neck as she went
seeking him in the bat-smelling belly of the shrine.
When the moon in the horoscope
moved to the eleventh house
he turned his gaze inward, sat at the temple prakaram
with the odhuvaar and trained his voice.
In the dark entrails of thrashing passion
words from the song housed in his sticky palate
she probed with her tongue into the cavity of his soul
smelling of areca nut and country hooch.
When the gods dance
on the street the first day of Panguni
she rolls the mat
spreads her legs
nestles in the warmth between
a stone from Kollidam
serrated with age and kinship of earth.
She carves a pestle
the hollow indent of navel cradles the empty sack
where seeds rattle –
the pods hard and bristled like her tonsured head.
They say she was barely nineteen
when she was widowed
soaked her body in kashayam made with liquorice root
embalmed the face in neem paste.
There is a type of plant that serves as fences
even goats do not eat the leaves
breeze does not pass between the branches
whorls of leaves
masquerade as flowers.
Panguni is a Tamil month, from mid March to mid April
Kollidam is a river in southern India
Kashayam, a Tamil word for decoction
A butterfly dusted in sunset orange dips into a flower
like a diver who tears into the silky fabric of the sea.
The honeyed bees are encrusted and scaled with pollen
as the laced wings whir, toss the flowers.
I feel most elated on a day when sun licks the earth in thirst
the notes tumble from the dried twig, set fire a song.
I think the poem hid in a flower, in the wings of a butterfly
in the pollen on a drunken bee, in the song of a thirsty earth.
I raked the ground, sifted through the crumble of browned leaves
watched the earth yield a plant and offer a flower to find this.
I will blame the blueness in the sky
the berries fallen and crushed under feet, seeds carried away by wind
the plain breasted bird on a dying tree.
Sun soaks through everything, stitches specialness into the ordinary
On quieter days
the train can be heard from the
the gong of the bell from the temple
travels to the after-life of the dead
when the machine is rested
certain gears function
for a while
no one can tell when the end comes
What is dear finds way to the brewing pot
odd leaves piled on the grass
the browned jasmines
rose petals still secreting the perfume
When you push open the door, angle the body
to the energy that inhabits a room
Do not coax the birds a minute longer
to stay in the tree
or a mollusk to lock the plasma in a shell
On an otherwise mundane afternoon, my son
calls to say
his friend’s father died
Why, only yesterday he told me of the
the friend’s lactose intolerance
among other things
My mind makes the adjustment to accommodate
the new information of the young man I have not met
the father I will never meet
I touch the space of existence –
the space inside the shell where existence is a plasma of nothingness
no one can tell when the end comes