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
She sits at the edge of the tide, the sky
bleaches the folds of her neck. The flowers in the skirt
deceptive take colors from the house. She fashions a tunic
tasseled with strands of time when every event takes a step back.
As the weight of emptiness rests on the rosewood chair
her mind drops into the silenced bowl of the day.
The clock hands tremble with particles of constancy: the clover
fragrant in the smoked fish on the counter, the dust in air
fed by flecks of coal hefted from the stove as corn fobs
gyrate in the squall of hunger. The tongue of the Pandanus flower bears
the language of the silenced deity, she slices the rosette of curse
weaves the fragrant strand in her hair to stitch the gash of shame.
Mountains thunder down their brawny torsos, nose askew elephants in confusion
wade the river that has lost the banks.
I move homes by tricking the bones and lungs, fold into the heights, curl in
the hollow of the rocks fetal
as even the eagle rolls out larger than me. The air coils in the tension of terror
along the liquid shoulder of the cliff.
Everything is red this morning – the soil, the river, and water draining my throat –
bloody like the spout from the hawk’s neck.
Stars wheel though darkness as in creation-time nameless but with the identity
of my dead mother.
Where are the homes of birds, food for the bees, the sun whose rays must penetrate
the graves of my people?
The two rivers meet in the town
where the mountain spreads legs
for the valley that is prone on her back
like a slumberous woman.
Gomti flows into Sarayu
ceases to exist after the convergence.
In a statement of finality the river ends
as individual lives terminate.
The old temple priest would not let me step
into Gomti, pick a pebble from a tumble
of moss. My ashes will be strewn here,
he said pointing to the stony riverbed.
His eyes rested on Sarayu’s mercurial water
that flowed in silver twists between rocks.
He touched my head to bless and said:
Sarayu is for the living, for you.
You might salute the sun
weave your fingers to see the first rays of light
stand waist deep in the freezing Ganges
face east waiting for the sunrise.
Surya powers us with the metre of poetry
the words germinate the three universes.
The earth time is marked with reference to the sun
the rising and the setting, the days and the nights.
In another poetic reality the moon slices the sky
halves the month into darkness and light.
Within the lunar rhythm the sea rises in orgasm
the earth is enthralled in a pearly stillness.
You are eighty years old
if you have lived a thousand full moons.
Image courtesy: Huffpost
After he leaves for the airport
the dust from his shoes settles on the floor
The smell of soap lingers in the room
as I fold the warmth of his body in the blanket
It goes back to the practice from my childhood
when I wandered in the overgrown backyards of people
to collect the thumbai flowers, pinches of moon in my palm
that I weaved into a garland, the pale stem of a flower
pressed into the heart of another, into the soft pouches
of nectar for the bees that helicoptered to my face
Brush of wings a whisper so faint like the slight
movement of his chest as he slept
I pay attention to the small things in him that the others miss
so like the thumbai flower that no one cared to gather.
The ladle is you
the oblation is you
it is offered by you in the fire
which is you.
You shall be attained by the one
who is absorbed in you .
~ Bhagavad Gita
The lone traveler cooks his last meal
throws the pots into fire doused
by steady fall of snow. The pines are left
miles below, only the hum of wind
the hiss of breath at the tip of the tongue
as air journeys from sinking diaphragm
fanned by fire from the womb.
A stitch of light rips the skin of dawn
to unravel the slow-burning planet.
Smoke rises from the forest
folds into the ample breast of earth.
He labors his breath, pebbles roll in the chest
each one a chant he learned standing neck deep
in the freezing river.