Where Father And Daughter Are Seekers

Can you read meaning to my poetry
that father standing beside me, cannot?

Father ghost writes, he runs his finger
on the scroll – write of the bees and flowers

in the temple garden he says,
of the cowherd girls who dip their fingers in butter,

write of the cloud hued Krishna … his sentence breaks off…
of the Lotus Eyed One with conch and shell;

pantomiming he blows the conch, looking ludicrous
at that early hour as ruby morning spills the sky.

He is your dark lover he says
eyes burning with passion, words I have heard

since childhood, made me fantasize even as a girl of six.
Father writes poetry too, simple straightforward stuff

meter pruned like the oleander bush in the garden,
no sparse and stark lines like other hymnists

who tease with their obscurity, he disapproves their style.
Write like me he implores: listen to the koel on the kadamba tree,

write of the sapphire throated peacock, moisture laden clouds –
write earthy poetry, he is happy with the terminology.  

I struggle, I need to hallucinate to write of kisses stolen
on the banks of the dark Yamuna.
 
Seek him. I am mixed-up – (I am also sleepy,
writing exercises are always kept to morning and how cold it is!)

how should I worship:  take vow, fast,
abstain from milk and ghee, no silk robes, no finery?   

Immerse in him. How does his tongue taste?
How sweet is his breath?

In doubt, frustration, as I wrestle
with God, with father,

in aborted efforts, scored off lines,
in unwritten poetry lay my prayer to the Lord.

(For ninth century Tamil saint poets Periyalvar and Aandaal)

Flowers Of Jade On Her Tomb

I am inspired for a sweetened coffee,
the cup engraved in moss coloured flowers
from the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.

Breath hangs like whisper in the silence
of the vault, pollen of thickly scented spider lily
falls like the rustle of her tussar silk.

It becomes cumbersome to remove
layers of pearl every night, women whisper
in the corners of the palace that he takes her

when she fills with eggs. It’s easy to spoil coffee
in the full view of the marble building, the moon
curdles into milk like cancerous scars from fumes,

loss and pain. Sweat from the palm leaves salt,
etchings of flowers cloud like the muddied river
as froth of coffee gently bursts raining coolness.

Read here about Empress Mumtaz Mahal

Exorcise

Smell of milk, vulnerable children make me cry
and when streets don’t remember me:
tortuous thread of memory under black asphalt.
The bamboo blinds with vetiver trap the sea breeze,
the fragrant root has thrown him off scent, away
from me. Alone, frowning with concentration
I bend over a bowl of oatmeal in rundown restaurant,
searching for the pepper pods dried on his terrace.

Sky an inverted aqua bowl collapses on me
blinding me to colours other than that of emptiness.
Black. On the leafless tree, head tilted toward me,
the beaded eyes of the crow plead for a moment
alone before departure. That’s the last I see of him –
collecting pebbles near Cauvery, the frayed shirt   
his father dried in the backyard ballooning
on his upturned face, eyes tranquil from freedom.

Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides) is a fragrant grass native to India. Mats made by weaving vetiver roots are used to cool rooms during the summer months. The mats are hung in the doorway or at the window and kept moist by spraying with water periodically, this keeps the room cool and gives an earthy fragrance.

The Rash

What do I remember of the fragrance
that tore the night, as it seeped through

the crack of my skin? Between sheets in hotel rooms,
do you see me in the dark blemish,  

like a secret in the inner thigh where he
searches you out in ecstatic pleasure?

From spine splayed book fine charcoal dust rose
gathering fragments from the paper,

the letters rising in a carnival of remembrance –
but who knew they’ll find place in his fingers

under your neck on cobalt nights, misted
with desire that yellow the pages of my life.

Come now, twist the robe around your body
and return the blemish to me, a rash now.

Pisasu

 At the southern edge of the village
near the graveyard they levitate, feet-less.

The robust ones make home in tamarind tree:
Mohini in particular with teeth of  pearl

her tresses all tangled on the long dark pods
lets moonlight pour through her.

She’ll take the strand of jasmine
from your hair my grandmother warned.

Vedalam prefers the drumstick tree,
the lanky dude is a perfect nerd;

breath reeking of undigested animal gut,
he quizzes kings as he takes piggyback ride.
 
There is Curse- Sin languishing
at the threshold of an old temple –

he killed a Brahmin; in that liminal space
he sits cradling his severed head between his knees,

waiting for me, you:
keep off the southern entrance of the temple.

(In response to Dave’s poem ‘If there were such things as ghosts’ )

Just When


Just when the day lets down her hair
in waves of sunlight

just when you think the bird on the tree
will start singing

a cavity of sadness tunnels into you
leaving a dent

whose insides are the red of ripe guava
that the squirrel abandoned.

Remember?

I travelled the cold deserts
at altitudes close to sky,
believe me there are no nights up there
so no dreams, blue stones glare,
light spreads like thick cheese –
not a blink, a moment when
you can scratch under your arm.

Memory takes the shape of sleep,
a dream where the hand goes out
but never reaches anywhere;
hours stretch into the folds of brain,
illumined by the lurid light
the cranium blossoms into whorls of
bleeding red and florescent green.

In that bowl of solitude where
there is the noise of lights
every cell is displayed in its nakedness.
Squint your eyes at the cistern
dry and caked with sediments:  
you came into me there
those many, many years ago.