She tosses fistful of bleach into the vegetables simmering in the pan the foam
shores up like the salt at the estuary in Marakannam In the town without a beach
where the land
lazily copulates with the sea the breeze at the gopura vassal breathes into the womb of her memory It is then she hears the machine in the depth of the lungs
like a hawk rasping not kissing did’nt protect her from the bursting heart
She lugs a bucket topples the water on the cracked red earth chafes
with harsh bristles till scraggy dreams explode the colors of sunset Does it feel lonely when stars are harpooned one after another keel to reveal squishy undersides as the waves pale in a moonless night When the heat clams down everything longs to escape –
the wheezing pig in the yard the wail of loss scratching the sky
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.
In another version of his life he has not traveled beyond a mile. The river plies fresh loads of algae empties the hill at his feet where the ferns dry their hoary limbs.
He fits the odds of his life in a bag walks along the spent river that cradles the kingfisher in a shard of light. The villagers troop along the cracked bund see his back diminish to a pinpoint.
The fish floats belly up the venom stains the reeds a shade of purple flows down the throat of the crown flower to the small of his back when he kneels as if the body is built to fold up.
They bring him wrapped, calf muscles buckled. from what the human body is not meant to do – walk three hundred miles, drop like a yellowed leaf to be rested under the cassia tree in full bloom just a mile from home
The context: After the 21 day lockdown in India to contain the spread of Coronavirus, the states have closed their borders, bus and train services have been suspended. The lockdown has left tens of millions of migrant workers unemployed. They are from rural India, small towns and villages, but live most of the year in India’s megacities. Believed to number at least 120 million, possibly more, they are walking to their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they had migrated for work. A 23 year old man walking from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, after completing 500 kilometers in the summer heat of the southern Indian plains, died of cardiac arrest in Secunderabad, many miles away from home.
Poem 2 of Lockdown
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
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.
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 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.
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
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