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.
I lie one more time beside you
head to the south, feet facing the door,
dipping in an angle, flowing like a stream.
I rub the plate dry till my face shines,
the arc of mist every time I breathe
drains like water into gasps of sand.
If I am born without a womb
to which world will I be conducted,
who will stoke the fire?
I end the journey of the seed
that swam million births, to lodge
as orgasm in the bead of your sweat.
He blows air, his lips o, cheeks puffed.
Words fly, create sparks when rubbed hard.
Vocal cord is the bowl with offerings of sounds –
sibilants, glottal, plosives and fricatives.
Muscles knot to produce the right aspiration,
a small slip could change the meaning
turn day to night, Rudra to turtle,
desire to freedom, moha to moksha.
The murmur of chants like bees in the forest
smears dark the day, simmers the juices of
existence, thick and syrupy, dark as Soma
who in intoxication rises in fumes to the skies.
Wearing my father’s old shirt he sat on the window ledge,
dark hollow of what was him bellowed with the night breeze.
He has come from the village banyan tree, mother said,
walking over towns, pole vaulting clouds, peering into road signs.
He found us in the crowded suburb without a tree to look out of the window,
we found him snarled on the clothesline, in the shirt mother dried out.
Mother said he was burning slowly, a toe at a time. That was different
from what we understood of afterlife, contradicted her story of ancestors
the raucous ones who visited as crows every morning to fight over a rice ball.
He became diminished from sun and wind, and not from burning.
Leaving a new shirt on clothesline mother urged him to grow limbs,
go home, then balled the old shirt into garbage bin for corporation van to clear.
Time holds her like a hand at the throat
when brass pot goes into the mouth of a well.
Words hang to the rope, distended into sounds –
slurps and gurgles that surface through saliva
poured into a glass on the table. Clear water
decanted of desire, fire of longing. As the sun
slices her face in the shadows of warmed bricks
phlegm threads in the food she brings out
slowly, laboured like this poem- words chunking,
spasmodic, taking her breath away in the effort.
Everything falls off
grains of sand from my shoes
picked from the terrains I tread.
The fire you birthed in me
two fingers below my navel
a fist under the skin.
Warm glow like a thread
you pass from your mother
and I to my son.
I want to tell you
I have remained thirsty.
Hundred years of parched earth
furrows crumble into me
raked with darba grass
looped in his finger.
He consigns me to the fire
that I leave in him.
*Agni, in Indian languages, means fire.