She sat on the thinnai her head fixed in the direction of the sea, heat wrapped around her feet as she narrated the pilgrimage to Kasi. Widowed young she had to wait as the women in her family counted the moons she mensurated. When she left on padayatra she announced it was her last journey, watching her back diminish from sight the family believed so too. Those were times when roads were built for walkers avenued with vembu, allai, puliya maram their saps flowed through deep entrails of hard earth into ponds and deep wells to quench thirst. Nights were thick, air breathed with pollen dust, mating animals moved deep into dense forests. She came back eight months later darker and thinner, with a distant look, began talking of her body as a tenement she would soon vacate. She referred to time as the end of a kalpa when the waves lashed the walls of Tiruvelikeni kovil. It was a part of the story she narrated – the leaf on the water at the moment of dissolution as the sea bed heaved. If alive today she would have translated the pandemic as pralaya – both three syllabled, hers ending with a vowel the slow exhalation of air when light escapes the sky.
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.
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.
Pieces of earth I gathered
breathed into clods of clay
till roots grew from my palm
branches clenched my breast.
Like a mother I lactated
nerves tips loosened with sap.
As flowers burst into colours,
seeds tugged me. But the cycle
terminated when the sky
declared water is earth.