About Uma

Writer and artist from Chennai, South India.

The Emissary

When the crow grew raucous as if rebuking me,
I knew who would turn up at the door
It happened every time without fail
.

I believed when my mother said that no one fell off
the earth. It was the night the moon’s face
reflected in her nose ring.


Bracing her shoulders she narrated
of the surge when creatures with hundred limbs
crawled between the fingers of moringa tree

and choked every passage to the lungs.
She daubed a cloth with kerosene, set them aflame
watched prayers harden like dung cake patted on the wall.

The visitor came as predicted. The fear
that swarmed the plank of my chest disappeared –
after all tales are meant to soften blows.


Poem 1 of Lockdown

Writing A Poem Through The Solar Eclipse

The solar eclipse observed in the sky over Chikmagalur, Karnataka
Photo courtesy: Rajesh Kosalram

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.

The Terrace Concert

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 movement

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.

The Tale From Mylai

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.

A story for the month: Panguni

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

where poems hide

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