Light moves with night breeze
teasing here gone there,
to the moth gently opening skirt
of aching desire bursting
with moistness of mist.
The colour of night is intense
blue of compressed air
between wings, unfurling
like rainbow on icicles searing
a map of his taste on my skin.
The fabric is twisted with dyes
dawn from silver threads of saliva
spun when night is moonless.
Tongue of shame pushes the cloth up
to reveal the dark scar of lust.
It is difficult to hold my gaze
through the green of your shirt
when time is quartered from shade card,
and moving air from wings of moth
determines hardness of your want.
At the end of grassland
pandanus streaked the skin
artwork of beaded blood.
In bowel of prickly fruit
honeyed light filtered
warm glow under the feet.
Jewelled like venom
blue bled on branches
pinpricks to pick the way.
Nerves uncoiled scat
fumigated the brain
of vaporous fears.
Green changed to something else
amber perhaps like the fruit
of the tree on stilts.
dusty mauve when they disgorged
oxygen from lungs.
Heart thumped as toad
breathed wart life on stone
soft with moss.
shells of gourds split
grinning their seeds to the sky.
The point when smoke from woodstove
folded the mist of the day
was the time milkman tied the cow
to the lamp post.
Udder heavy with milk the mother lowed
to the calf stuffed with hay
and propped against the fence. The child tugged,
areola a dark smudge of sores.
I picked my clothes, laced the blouse
tenderly over my breast,
looked out to see the cow bite into the calf,
chew wisps of hay
and my child in bed asleep, mouth curdled with
threads of milk.
He is dumb from holding fire in his mouth
and could as well be dead, despite the fire:
not because he has no words,
he will have no kingdom if there is no fire.
The priest knows it, mumbles incantation to Agni,
offers ghee to the potent heat searing the tongue.
What feeds the fire, is it words or ghee,
or the word ghee uttered by the priest?
Fire rolls out of the sealed mouth,
as man to woman, word to desire is wedded.
The word births history, colonizes earth,
marks boundaries and draws maps.
Story softens brutality, so does poetry,
holds god’s attention to syllables and declensions
while the fire scorches the grass. Stubbles of flames
fanned by wind unfurls, licks acres of river plains.
Pathways open as forests are razed and animals burnt –
a blighted day when a word can rule the God of Fire.
Source: Satapatha Brahmana (700 BCE)
The story of Mathava in Satapatha Brahmana narrates the eastward movement of the Aryan tribe from the banks of River Sarasvati to regions near River Sadanira, present day Ghagara. It is a document of conquest and expansion mythologised in a story.
Every landmark held a story, for instance the blue house
of the Tamil teacher whose brother was a priest.
They had a small chapel on the terrace of the house
an enclosure built with bamboo poles and asbestos sheets.
Rain pelted on the sheets during monsoons,
lines of anxiety on their faces held the chapel through.
I prayed too in the shrine in my home
among the pantheon of my gods I placed a plastic Christ.
I put a vase of plastic flowers, fake carnations and peonies
whose names I did not know as a girl.
Out of deference to the teacher who sent home cake every Christmas
my grandmother did not dismantle my shrine in her shrine.
The year of First World War grandfather bought a house
draining his savings, with no inkling if the property was war worthy.
There were rehearsals of black outs – blankets draped on windows,
lights turned off, vegetable oil lamps flickered with frayed hopes.
The night Emden rained projectiles, for half hour Madras held its breath –
breeze carried smell of kerosene from Burma ships into my mother’s sleep.
Grandfather packed his family into a train bound to Mayavaram,
thence to his village. No he would not join them, who will guard the house?
In the village grandmother pulled out the aerial, tuned the radio everyday.
A month later the static crackled with noise, filled the room with glad tidings.
She rejoiced, snapping her knuckles in celebratory anger –
finally that son of a bitch ship has sunk in some distant shore.
There is a map in my head
lanes like dark threads
where dust settles, forms pigments
that I slough years later with pumice stone.
Fragments of cells clog the drain
run through the throat of gutter
into subterranean sewers
that crisscross my city
like the map in my head.